By Carla Samon Ros

Lima, January 19th (efe-epa) .- Unrestricted access to medical marijuana and the legal right to grow the plant are central concerns of patients with chronic diseases in Peru, over which a legislator’s frank discussion about his cannabis use in the Leisure has revived the debate about this nation’s drug policy.

Cannabis has been legalized for therapeutic purposes in this Andean nation since 2017. In practice, however, it is only distributed to laboratories, none of which have a license to grow the plant, and sold directly to the public in only three pharmacies in Lima.

Now, however, a draft law is pending, which aims to relax the legal restrictions and to enable the prescription-only self-cultivation and the associated cultivation (grouping of patients and service providers in associations to jointly cultivate their own drugs) of marijuana.

The 2017 law authorizing the importation, manufacture and sale of cannabis and its derivatives for therapeutic use was a “cultural victory” for the South American country, but not sufficient to meet the needs of chronically ill patients who are still forced to to acquire the product on an unregulated parallel market.

This is the assessment of actress and activist Francesca Brivio, who was diagnosed with systemic mastocytosis (a disease in which an excessive number of abnormal mast cells accumulate in the body) in 2009 and which has become a key voice in the battle for patients’ rights how they rely on cannabis to relieve symptoms of chronic diseases.

“My illness can be fatal. There is no cure and it is in the blood, ”said Brivio, who suffers from fatigue and pain, organ inflammation and gastrointestinal problems and has had her uterus, several cracks and the top of one of her thigh bones removed.

Although she had never been an ordinary cannabis smoker, she told Efe that she smoked “a few puffs” in late 2013 and thought she had “not felt this good in a long time.”

Brivio soon replaced cannabis, which she had obtained from a dealer on the parallel market, with “absolutely all” of the 32 medications she had taken for her illness.

Surgeon Max Alzamora told Efe that there is “conclusive evidence” that the cannabis plant, which can be administered in various concentrations and modes of administration, has benefits that include pain relief and antiemetic effects (reducing nausea and improving appetite in cancer patients).

He also pointed out the anticonvulsant, anxiolytic, antidepressant and anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis, adding that consumption of this drug can provide a wide range of benefits for patients suffering from, for example, glaucoma or Parkinson’s disease by reducing eye pressure and acts as a muscle relaxant.

“It won’t be the cure for the disease, but it’s an additional tool,” said Alzamora, who criticized the fact that medical marijuana has only been available in three pharmacies and only sells one product in Peru since the law was passed in 2017 becomes: cannabis oil.

Difficulty gaining legal access to cannabis for therapeutic purposes led Maria del Rosario Montoya, from Trujillo, a city 560 kilometers north of Lima, to become an activist.

She said her 22-year-old daughter was born with cerebral palsy and refractory epilepsy due to “medical negligence” and suffered from severe bronchial problems, constant pneumonia, convulsions and hospitalization for 16 years.

Montoya said she made a decision in 2016 to research medical cannabis uses and started trying to alleviate her daughter’s symptoms.

“I started giving her cannabis oil every day,” and “in two and a half months the entire bronchial problem went away,” the woman said, adding that her daughter’s epilepsy improved to the point where she “stopped taking” at the end of 2016 Anticonvulsant ”and“ It has been five years since she entered the hospital. “

Montoya, founder of the Medical Marijuana Trujillo-Peru Association, said she was buying her daughter’s remedy – a “Colombian oil” – at an affordable price on the parallel market, and many other mothers of sick children were doing the same while they eagerly awaited the death of one new law to legalize the self-cultivation of cannabis or related cultivation.

Brivio is also leading this legislative battle with her Lima-based association “Cannabis, gotas de esperanza” (Cannabis: Drops of Hope), which, along with the Peruvian Federation for Medical Cannabis, was the driving force behind the introduction of a new law enabling self-cultivation or which associated cultivation of the plant for medicinal purposes.

As the law made its way through Peru’s unicameral legislation, the drug policy debate was resuscitated by testimony from a liberal and progressive Purple Party legislator, Daniel Olivares, who acknowledged regular use of cannabis and admitted to smoking it during an interview with the candidate his party’s presidential election in April, Julio Guzman.

“I’ve been a marijuana smoker all my (adult) life for 20 years,” said Olivares, who may face an investigation by the ethics committee of Congress when that legislature meets in March.