A woman holds a banner with a message that reads in Spanish: "Medicinal Cannabis, the pain can not wait", as she waits outside the Senate in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, March 29, 2017. The Senate voted into law the medicinal use of marijuana on Wednesday. (Natacha Pisarenko, Associated Press)

Argentina legalizes medical cannabis, creates research program with free access

The legislation sets up a regulatory framework to prescribe and distribute medical marijuana to patients

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina’s Senate has given final legislative approval to a bill legalizing the use of cannabis oil and other marijuana derivatives for medicinal purposes, and setting up a regulatory framework for the state to prescribe and distribute them to patients.

The legislation approved by senators Wednesday also creates a medical marijuana research program at the Health Ministry, which must “guarantee free access” to cannabis oil and other derivatives to patients who join the program. The legislation was passed by the Chamber of Deputies earlier.

“In history, the big things always come in small steps,” said Valeria Salech, president of a private pro-medical marijuana group called Mama Cultiva Argentina, which has argued that cannabis can radically change the quality of life for children suffering everything from HIV to epilepsy.

Her group is already lobbying to push the legislation further, to permit the families of patients to grow their own marijuana.

Under the new legislation, government agencies will be authorized to grow marijuana for research purposes and to produce cannabis oil and derivatives for patients. The state can import cannabis derivatives until they can be produced locally.

Other nations in Latin America are also debating allowing medical uses of marijuana. But Uruguay is the only country in South America that has legalized recreational pot.

In the U.S., voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada last year approved recreational use of marijuana, joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Canadian officials have recently said they hope to legalize recreational pot in 2018.