Argentina is preparing to establish its cannabis industry.
On July 15, the nation’s Senate approved a law that regulates the development of the medical cannabis and industrial hemp sectors. The bill passed with fifty-six votes in favor and just five against, and has moved to the Chamber of Deputies, where it is expected to pass.
The bill aims to establish a regulatory framework for the “cultivation, harvesting, production, storage, transport, marketing, import, export, and possession of cannabis seeds and cannabis derivatives, for medicinal, therapeutic, palliative or scientific research purposes.” It also includes the creation of a regulatory agency to oversee and grant licenses for the cannabis and hemp production chains.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm to move this law forward,” according to Deputy Alejandro Cacace, who says the bill is poised to sail through the Chamber of Deputies in the next couple of months. “This new law will give a boost to medical cannabis.”
This is not the first time Argentina has sought to regulate cannabis.
In fact, some local governments in the country have already legalized medical cannabis production, including in Argentina’s northern Jujuy province, where companies are cultivating and producing cannabis oils for patients. Meanwhile, Federal Law 27350, which legalized the use of medical cannabis nationwide, was approved in 2017. However, it was narrow in scope—allowing medical cannabis products to be imported for select conditions, such as refractory epilepsy, which benefitted a limited number of patients. Entities could obtain permission to cultivate cannabis, but only for the purpose of conducting research.
The new bill goes further, allowing for patients to access oils produced from cannabis cultivated in the country. “We did not start this journey from scratch, but this law will finally enable the production and commercialization of cannabis up to its final stage of production in laboratories,” Senator Alfredo Luenzo, who represents the province of Chubut in Congress, told Cannabis Wire.
The bill also gives a boost to commercial hemp. Hemp was legal in Argentina until the military dictatorship banned it in 1977, says Luenzo, who has been one of the biggest supporters of cannabis legalization in Congress. “Hemp can be used for a wide range of industrial products, including textiles, paper, and in the automobile industry, so we have the possibility of recovering what the dictatorship banned in ‘77,” he said. “We are finally taking the product out of the clandestinity in which it has been for many years.”
According to Ana Maria García, a physician and the president of the Medical Cannabis Association in Argentina, the most important contribution of the bill is that it will bring greater consistency and standardization to the industry.
“This law will guarantee good agricultural and manufacturing practices for the maximum quality of the product, avoiding the informal chain,” she said.
The government says that by 2025, both industries could generate an annual profit of US$ 500 million in sales, US$ 50 million in exports, and 10,000 new jobs. “The medical cannabis and industrial hemp market is growing exponentially at a global level, it is a new source of quality employment and productive development,” said Argentina’s Minister of Productive Development, Matías Kulfas, during the presentation of the bill on June 2. He praised the “great opportunity that Argentina has to be a regional leader, due to its agricultural and industrial capacities.”
Senator Luenzo argues that Argentina has the potential to become a major player in the global market. “Few regions have the agricultural conditions that Argentina has. We can build an international brand because the quality of our cannabis and hemp is proven to be very competitive at a global level,” he told Cannabis Wire.
Other countries in the region, however, such as neighboring Uruguay, where adult use is legal, have passed more far reaching cannabis legislation.
“There is a degree of hypocrisy in politics because even though recreational use of cannabis is very common in the country, there is a certain conservatism in politics that makes us lag behind Uruguay and other countries,” Deputy Cacace told Cannabis Wire.
This is the same “hypocrisy” that President Alberto Fernández spoke of in a recent discussion held with students from the National University of Patagonia.
“This is a debate that has to do with social hypocrisy. Marijuana’s toxicity is not in question, but tobacco and alcohol are also toxic,” he said. “There is a social acceptance in favor of alcohol being sold and consumed. This social acceptance does not exist with respect to drugs.”
“It is a debate that is going to have to happen at some point,” he added.
Deputy Cacace, who introduced a bill last September seeking to legalize adult use of cannabis in the South American country, says Argentina is ready for a more progressive discussion.
“We are still one step away from allowing cannabis not only for medicinal purposes, but also for recreational use, but this requires breaking down many prejudices and moving from a decriminalization paradigm to a legalization one.”
But, Senator Luenzo acknowledges this new bill is an “important first step” even if it is not as comprehensive as he would like.
“Did we fall short? Yes, we need to completely decriminalize cannabis to fight drug trafficking by giving the state control of the plant,” he said. “But it is an important first step.”
Both Cacace and Luenzo say the draft bill will face little opposition in the Chamber of Deputies and it is likely to become law before the end of the year.