Paraguay shakes up pharmaceutical policy with first medical cannabis licenses
Paraguay issued its very first medical cannabis licenses in February, marking a major turning point for the cannabis-producing country while raising questions about its approach to combating illegal cultivation.
"We are talking about so many families suffering from delicate illnesses," said InSight Victor Ríos, the senator who sponsored the bill. “And many of the people who are suffering are children. They had no way of accessing the drugs. "
Paraguay is the leading producer of illegal cannabis in the region. Between 5000 and 8000 hectares are cultivated in the country, said the National Anti-Drug Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional Antidrogas - SENAD). Paraguay is also one of the most unequal countries in the world, with nearly 40% of its population living in poverty.
Most of the illegal plantations are owned by poor farmers, say SENAD officials, and many are seeking to supplement yields of soybeans and corn, two of Paraguay's main exports. And with less than one percent of the population using marijuana, about 77 percent ends up in Brazil. Another 20 percent crosses the country's southern border into Argentina.
SENAD concentrates a large part of its efforts on crop eradication, which involves aerial surveillance and raids on plantations and packaging equipment. In 2017, Paraguay topped the list of countries for the highest number of eradicated cannabis plants. For the past year, he has reported the eradication of more than 1300 hectares until September.
During the two years, it took prepare Paraguay for the arrival of a medical cannabis industry SENAD has also developed other strategies to fight illegal marijuana, some of which focus more on public health and economic assistance.
"As part of alternative development programs," said a spokesperson for SENAD, "we believe that medical cannabis can be a mainstay. Obviously, we are not talking about traditional production, but rather controlled production with special regulations.
This first batch of medical cannabis licenses suggests that the Paraguayan government is in the process of moving from a purely criminal understanding of marijuana to a vision of public health, but questions remain as to the approach it takes.
By granting all licenses for medical cannabis to well-established pharmaceutical companies instead of poor farmers who grow illegal marijuana, the government has missed an opportunity to solve two problems at once.
Farmers could have benefited financially from a thriving medical cannabis industry, and the government could have benefited from integrating these farmers into a legal regulatory system that, in theory, would reduce the costs of destroying their plantations.
“What happened was that the government saw it was a business opportunity for its friends. The focus is supposed to be on public health. A humanitarian objective, "said the senator. He added, "There is virtually no connection between what the government is doing and the bill we are promoting in Congress."
Paraguay is a late driver in the region by allowing some form of legal cultivation of marijuana. Argentina , Brazil , Chile and Peru allow various levels of medical marijuana use, while Uruguay has completely legalized its recreational use.
Regional pressure to deal with the marijuana issue appears to have intensified recently in Paraguay, in part due to the high-profile trial of the Itatí network (making it one of the main drug transport centers in Argentina ) last year . More than XNUMX people were involved in a trafficking network via Argentina, which highlighted the fact that Paraguay continues to supply the majority of its neighbors' marijuana.
"Since most licenses have only been issued to economically strong local pharmaceutical companies, this should not prevent the industry from moving forward," said Henry Edwards, director of operations for the Paraguayan company Improlabs, one of the winning candidates.