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Cannabis in Latin America


In the 16th century, Cannabis sativa was introduced to Latin America. Nonetheless, many years have passed, and scientific progress and the medicinal use of sativa have been hampered by the regional countries' national laws.


The first medical cannabis law in Argentina, passed in 2017 (#17,350), establishes a regulatory framework for the medical use and scientific research of this plant and its derivatives. The first clinical research protocol in Latin America was approved in 2018 at Hospital de Pediatria Garrahan in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to assess the efficacy and safety of cannabidiol (CBD) oil for the treatment of pediatric patients with refractory epilepsy. In this context, pharmacists' roles in the health-care system in relation to the study protocol and the medicinal use of CBD have evolved from dispensing to active participation in clinical follow-up and research protocols.

Uruguay was the first South American country to pass legislation allowing for a legal market for medicinal marijuana, and Argentina followed suit a few years later with legislation legalising marijuana research and use from a medical and scientific standpoint. Ecuador has also changed its criminal code to allow for some therapeutic marijuana use, and Mexico appears to be on track to do the same in the not-too-distant future. Overall, the landscape is optimistic right now, but it didn't get there without a difficult journey.

The first records of cannabis in Latin America appear to date back to the 16th century, and it arrived there via the Columbian exchange with West Africa and the Old World. It also travelled with slaves sold from Angola to Brazil, and when it caught the attention of the Amazon's native tribes, they began growing it in the rainforest, making it more accessible even to the less wealthy. This increased the plant's popularity in Latin America because opium was already widely used, but the majority of people couldn't afford it, and marijuana proved to be a safer and less expensive alternative. Over the next few hundred years, it grew in popularity and spread until the early nineteenth century, when things began to change. And, as in many other countries, restrictions were imposed. And these restrictions had nothing to do with the fact that there was no evidence of cannabis's medicinal or recreational properties, but were entirely the result of church pressure.

This began in Brazil in 1830 and spread to the rest of Latin America over time. The reasons for the reversal are not entirely clear, but there could be a few factors. First and foremost, religious pressure is becoming increasingly rare around the world. Of course, there are still places where Islamic law is strictly enforced, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, but the Catholic church retains very little political power. Furthermore, advances in pharmaceutical technology and research have enabled us to gain a better understanding of the effects of cannabis and how they can be controlled and manipulated. The effect of most medicinal marijuana is not intended to be psychoactive. That is, of course, the intention in recreational use; it is essentially a sedative that can relax you, make you giddy, or cause you to hallucinate in some cases.


Violence in Latin America has reached alarming proportions in the last two decades. Despite accounting for only 8% of global population, Latin America and the Caribbean account for 33% of global homicides. The highly integrated corruption in government and community institutions has resulted in weak rule of law and public institutions unable to withstand pressure from organised criminal groups.] Although various factors contribute to violence and institutional fragility, a key aspect has been and continues to be that the majority of coca-based products, including cocaine, are produced by three countries—Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia—with Mexico being the second largest producer.

With the United States as the world's largest consumer of cocaine, Brazil's consumption steadily rising, and Europe a close third, demand is clearly not diminishing, and without it decreasing in the United States and Europe, Latin America's production is unlikely to decrease. Because of the region's geopolitical reality, a shift in policies is required to address the reality on the ground, rather than assuming that the current strategy of attacking supply and demand reduction is sufficient. As a result, new policy innovations are required to address the issues of drug-producing countries and prioritise policies that build institutional capacity rather than destabilise them through corrupt and ineffective policies. Latin America has seen a growing recognition that drug policy reform—including decriminalisation, incarceration, and legally regulated markets—can be a critical step toward reducing the power of organised crime and violence, while strengthening institutions and combating impunity.

Countries throughout the region have taken concrete steps to reduce the power of organised crime by separating the cannabis market from other illegal substances, implementing medical cannabis programs, and establishing specific drug thresholds for personal use. These policy changes demonstrate a willingness to experiment with new approaches to the drug problem, often without directly challenging the international drug control system.

To understand the regime that governs international and national drug laws, it is necessary to first understand the regime that governs international and national drug laws. Beginning with the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the 1972 Protocol, the international drug control system has established three primary legal instruments (1961, 1971, 1988) that seek to eradicate cannabis, coca, and poppy plants globally in order to combat the "evil" menace of drugs. The 1961 Convention established four lists, or "schedules," of controlled substances, and established a procedure for scheduling new substances without modifying or changing the existing treaty. The Convention currently contains over a hundred different substances that are classified based on the level of control to which they are subject.

Although the deadline for gradually eradicating opium poppy was 1979 and the deadline for coca and cannabis in 1989, many within the international community continue believing that a drug-free world is possible. Others, including the author, would argue that it is neither possible nor preferable to live in a world without plants, which have traditional, cultural, medical, and therapeutic purposes.

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