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Following Uruguay, Argentina takes step toward legalizing cannabis

. Nov 24, 2020
cannabis argentina latin america March for the decriminalization of cannabis in Buenos Aires. Photo: Carol Smiljan/Shutterstock

The legalization of cannabis around the world took further steps during the 2020 U.S. elections, as another four American states voted to allow recreational adult use of the drug. Meanwhile, the landscape in Latin America is much further behind.

Uruguay is the only nation in the region to have fully legalized recreational and medicinal marijuana, with the only restrictions being placed on foreigners visiting the country.

Possession is largely decriminalized in South America, but large parts of the Caribbean have strict cannabis laws, permitting neither use, possession, cultivation, or the medical application of the drug.</p> <p>The latest change to this scenario comes in Argentina, after President Alberto Fernández issued a decree allowing citizens to grow their own cannabis plants at home for medicinal use and authorizing specific drugstores to sell cannabis-derived products such as oil, soap, and even personal lubricant. Argentinians may now sign up to the Cannabis Program Registry (Reprocann) to ensure permits for legal home growing.&nbsp;</p> <p>Beyond simply regulating the use of <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2019/06/28/brazils-cannabis-regulate-medical-marijuana/">cannabis</a>, the progressive measure is also a boon for science, with Argentinian institutes already foreseeing new studies on the drug&#8217;s potential health benefits. The decree aims to guarantee &#8220;the safe, inclusive, and protected access for those who need cannabis as a therapeutic tool,&#8221; in accordance with <a href="https://g1.globo.com/mundo/noticia/2020/02/01/governo-fernandez-analisa-formas-de-descriminalizar-maconha-na-argentina.ghtml">a promise made by Mr. Fernández</a> back in February.</p> <p>Medicinal marijuana was technically already legal in Argentina thanks to a 2017 law issued under center-right ex-President Mauricio Macri. However, existing legislation only allowed the drug to be used in cases of pharmacoresistant epilepsy. Before the recent decree, anyone caught with unauthorized cannabis seeds could be arrested and face prison sentences of up to 15 years.</p> <p>Beyond being overly restrictive, Mr. Macri&#8217;s law also proved to be economically unfeasible, as Argentinians turned to import cannabis-derived products from other countries, facing huge import taxes and a highly unfavorable currency exchange. When the legislation was issued in 2017, one U.S. Dollar was worth ARS 18 — that exchange has now risen to ARS 80, making most foreign products prohibitively expensive.</p> <p>NGOs and civil society organizations in Argentina hope that the law change will put the country on the path to full legalization, as is the case in neighboring Uruguay.</p> <p>Responsible for promoting the use of <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2019/12/04/cannabis-investments-blazing-in-brazil/">safe medical marijuana</a> treatments, Argentinian NGO Mamá Cultiva met the latest legislative change with &#8220;joy.&#8221;</p> <p>“This new regulation integrates other organizations and public bodies, as well as universities. Now, we will continue to work on overcoming laws, further expanding this right for access to the entire plant,” the organization tells <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-heatmap" data-src="visualisation/4453613"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2>Cannabis decriminalization: <strong>High hopes for the future</strong></h2> <p>According to a study by Arcview Market Research, the legal cannabis market around the world generated roughly USD 6.7 billion in 2016 and is expected to hit USD 20 billion in 2021. In 2019, Canada took in almost USD 139 million in tax revenues in the first five months after legalizing recreational cannabis use.</p> <p>Argentina could be looking for a similar upside in its path to legalizing marijuana. The third-largest economy in Latin America, official numbers say that agribusiness makes up over 33 percent of the country&#8217;s GDP.</p> <p>With a long way to go before allowing recreational cannabis use, projections of the financial impact of legalizing the drug in Argentina are little more than rudimentary guesswork. But Mamá Cultiva says the supply and demand equation is likely to be favorable.</p> <p>“Let’s remember that cannabis has been illegal for less than a hundred years, while it has been used by humanity for five thousand years. We are now retracing that path in Argentina, towards the repair and release of the substance and its possibilities. We understand that this will benefit us not only as individuals but also as a country, as the plant has enormous potential for a country such as Argentina.”

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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