Mama Cultiva & the Fight for Cannabis Legalization

When it comes to cannabis activism, there are groups all over the world, fighting the governments and public sentiments of the countries they are in. One group stands out among the rest, though. A group of mothers on a quest to help their sick children, and effect change in the process. When it comes to activism, Mama Cultiva fights hard for cannabis legalization.

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The beginning in Chile & a sick 7-year-old child

Mama Cultiva’s biggest chapter is currently in Argentina, but the story of Mama Cultiva and the fight for cannabis legalization starts in Chile, as early as 2014. It was founded by Paulina Bobadilla, a mother of an epileptic daughter, Javiera, who was no longer responding to medications to stop her seizures in 2014, and who was suffering so much pain, and had become so numb, that she would inadvertently rip off her own fingernails.

Bobadilla was already having a hard time shelling out the $800 a month needed for these medications that weren’t even working, and had to sell her hair salon to make payments. Javiera began receiving a couple drops of cannabis oil a day at the age of seven, and according to Bobadilla, her seizures dropped from about seven a day to one, she was able to sleep, and general irritability went down. Bobadilla said positive results began within a week.

In September 2014, Bobadilla’s brother was arrested when he helped her buy approximately 20 grams after she ran out of cannabis to treat her daughter. They were pulled over in a car, where Bobadilla’s brother claimed responsibility for the cannabis and was charged with ‘micro-trafficking’. This means if convicted he faced at least 561 days in prison. I could not find information on the outcome of the case.

children with epilepsy

A couple more examples of early group members include Gabriela Reyes, who in 2014 had an only seven-month-old son who had suffered through up to 300 epileptic seizures a day. When her son stopped responding to medication completely, she was told he was a terminal patient, and essentially would die. Reyes found out about cannabis oil as an alternative treatment and began adding it to the infant’s bottle. His seizures dropped down to approximately 12 a day from 300, at which point he was able to start eating normally. Reyes strongly believes that cannabis saved her son’s life.

Another mother, who would only giver her first name, Susana, was cultivating with her husband in 2014 to make oil for their son with epilepsy. She said how growing can go very slow at times, and often the couple (and other families) would resort to buying off the street when needed. This sometimes meant being taken advantage of by dealers, or sold the wrong plant (male instead of female). For mothers like Susana, learning things like how to reproduce plants in a Mama Cultiva workshop, helped provide better grows so as not to require help from outside, less dependable, sources.

Understanding the illegality of her actions, Bobadilla began the group Mama Cultiva with other parents in similar situations, so they could discuss growing methods to cultivate cannabis to help their sick children. These parents continued to meet and grow secretly, even with the threat of 15 years in prison hanging over their heads, and the reality of Bobadilla’s own brother’s arrest.

Not only did they start to grow marijuana secretly at that time, as it was illegal to cultivate cannabis under Chilean government law, but Mama Cultiva began to push for a medical cannabis legalization that would allow their children treatment without breaking the law. At that time, the Health Commission of the House of Representatives had already approved legislation to home-grow in these cases, but Congress had not actually passed it yet. When Mama Cultiva held its first event, it attracted 11 families. By the second event, over 100 families were involved.

And today…

The early members of Mama Cultiva used social networks like Facebook to find each other and come together. As they grew, neighboring countries started their own chapters all across Latin America. Now, Mama Cultiva is a not-for-profit organization aimed at helping those who suffer from diseases and disorders like epilepsy, cancer, autism, and a host of other ailments that cannabis has shown to be useful for, and where standard Western medical treatments do not work. The organization guides families through the process of obtaining and using cannabis therapeutically, and advocates for legalized self-cultivation, as well as legal medical and recreational programs in South America.

For many looking to use cannabis for medicine, these are uncharted territories, often involving taking part in illegal measures, and Mama Cultiva helps families make it through. The group is also devoted to educating the public about medical cannabis in general, holding workshops, classes, and seminars on the topic. For the last several years, the group has been officially operational, helping those in need, and being instrumental in enacting cannabis legalization laws in different countries. Even in countries that have passed medical legalization measures, the infrastructure is often so paltry (or non-existent) that medications are still not widely available, leading many to grow on their own, and seek help from Mama Cultiva.

self-cultivation

According to Gabriela Cancellaro, communications director of Argentina’s chapter of Mama Cultiva, “Self cultivation is still a debt our governments have with their societies, for it is still prosecuted and penalized in most of Latin American countries.”

How they’ve helped

Mama Cultiva activism can be seen all over South America. When Argentina legalized cannabis for medicinal use back in 2017, Mama Cultiva was said to have had a major influence on that legislation passing, even though the group was dismayed that self-cultivation was not legalized at that time. The group was involved in discussions to produce draft legislation for the 2020 decree which did finally legalize home-growing for medical purposes.

Part of what allowed this was the switching of presidents from Mauricio Macri who was in office for the 2017 law passage, but who did very little to make anything accessible to anyone, to Alberto Fernandez, whose government began working on regulations that are more permissive and allow more accessibility.

Mama Cultiva is very active in Paraguay. In 2019 the activist group gave out free cannabis seeds for the cultivation of hemp for sick children. They did this in a public square in the capital city of Asuncion, and it was meant to both help spread the ability for medicine, as well as pressure the government to legalize self-cultivation for medical purposes. This government is currently run by President Mario Abdo Benítez. His predecessor President Horacio Cartes did enact a medical cannabis law, but it was never effective as a regulatory framework was never created to run it.

As of 2020, a current law making its way through Paraguayan government, dubbed the ‘Mama Cultiva Law’, is seeking to decriminalize growing, harvesting, and the production of cannabis oil for home-growers, which would also in turn relax the current legal limit for possession, which is 10 grams. A translation of the modified text goes something like this: “Anyone who has in their possession substances referred to in this Law, which the doctor has prescribed or whoever has them for their exclusive personal use will be exempt from penalty.”

Back to Chile where the group originated, Mama Cultiva has been working with other groups like the Daya Foundation and Movimental to push for greater freedoms for cannabis use, specifically medicinally. While Chile does have a medical legalization, (and a decriminalization measure which has been stuck in the channels of government since 2015, but still hasn’t passed), the lack of access has led to protests literally every year.

cannabis activists

In 2019, as many as 80,000 protesters marched in Santiago for the ‘Cultivate Your Rights’ march organized by the groups above. One of the main issues is the quick passage of the Safe Growing Law, which would stop medical patients from having their home-grown plants seized by the government. Pressure from these groups does seem to be moving things along, albeit slowly.

Stories can be found in all the countries the group operates in, like Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and Paraguay.

Effects of Covid

One of the many catastrophes caused by the Covid-19 pandemic – or rather, the reaction to it – is that most of Mama Cultiva’s activities had to stop, and with them, the flow of income into the group which keeps it operational. So just as should be expected by a group known for pushing boundaries, and thinking outside the box, Mama Cultiva moved their fight to places like Instagram, using it as a platform to educate about cultivation, and general marijuana philosophy.

In fact, Mama Cultiva used the pandemic as yet one more reason to push for legalization. Founder and director of Mama Cultiva Argentina – Valeria Salech – stated “In times like these, we find comfort in knowing that we can grow our own therapeutic products in our backyards…Now, more than ever, we want to highlight the importance of the sanitary autonomy provided by growing marijuana at home.”

Even so, these are trying times for an organization putting everything into helping the public. Anyone who would like to donate to the cause, and help keep these fighter-moms going, can do so through their site: here.

Conclusion

When it comes to cannabis heroes of history, Mama Cultiva as a group, has been one of the more influential entities fighting the fight for legalization. All over South America this group has inserted itself into legislative processes, organized protests, educated the public, and risked the freedom of its own members for the sake of helping sick children, and sick people all over the continent. Mama Cultiva has made the fight for cannabis legalization not just about getting high and selling products, but about an actual, legitimate way of saving and improving lives.

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Argentina Allows Cannabis Self-Cultivation

With 2017 legislation, Argentina joined the growing number of South American countries to relax cannabis laws. At the end of 2020, that legislation was expanded, and now finally, Argentina allows cannabis self-cultivation for medical use.

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Cannabis in Argentina

Cannabis is not legal for recreational use in Argentina, but small amounts of it were decriminalized back in 2009. In the Arriola decision, which was the result of a court case arising from the arrest of five men, the court determined that small amounts of drugs meant for personal use, that won’t affect or cause harm to anyone else, and which pose no threat of danger, are decriminalized. There is no official amount set for personal use, meaning law enforcement and judges must use their own discretion per case.

Much like Mexico and South Africa, which each have constitutional rulings related to cannabis and the right of an individual to live life as they see fit without intrusion from the government, Argentina’s court ruled that “Each adult is free to make lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the state.” The decision was also meant to encourage law enforcement money to be spent on bigger cases, while leaving small-time users to enter treatment programs instead.

Cannabis trafficking is illegal in Argentina and can incur a penalty of 4-15 years in prison. It’s illegal for residents to grow marijuana for commercial purposes.

Medical bill 2017

cannabis medicine

On the 29th of March, 2017, Argentina’s senate approved legislation for the legalization of medical cannabis. The bill requires those in need of cannabis medications to register with the country’s national program, which is overseen by the Ministry of Health. Not only that, the government actually set it up to provide free access of these medications to patients and children approved for their use.

The reason it’s free is because the medical ‘program’ was set up under the bill as a research initiative called the National Program for the Study and Research of the Medicinal Use of the Cannabis Plant and its By-products and Non-conventional Treatments. By law, patients have to be enrolled in the program, and the program allows for medical cannabis oil to be provided to patients free of charge. This law did not technically institute a structured market, leaving the only way to access these medications through the government run program.

Besides starting government run cultivation, the law did something else. It instituted the Cannabis Exceptional Access Regime which allows the import of medications with cannabis by-products into the country for verified patients with epilepsy. This provision, as it was written in 2017, does not cover other disorders that can be treated with cannabis medicines. Only licensed physicians, specifically neurology specialists, are able to make such requests on behalf of their patients under this provision.

Argentina now allows cannabis self-cultivation

When the bill was passed in 2017, cultivation carried a sentence of up to two years. While it was pushed for this bill to include a provision for self-cultivation, Argentinian legislators did not include it in the bill, restricting the ability for sick people to grow their own marijuana. By many, including activist group Mama Cultiva – which helped lead the way for this legalization, this was a major failing in an otherwise big step in the right direction.

In early November 2020, a decree was published in the Official Gazette making the statement that Argentina now allows cannabis self-cultivation for medical purposes. The government legalized personal cultivation, along with legalizing the sale of cannabis products (creams and oils) in pharmacies. The decree was signed by President Alberto Fernández, and states that there should be “timely, safe, inclusive and protective access for those who need to use cannabis as a therapeutic tool.” He added that a regulatory framework must be set up quickly to do so. Though the decree made the statement that Argentina now allows cannabis self-cultivation, it did not detail how many plants an individual could grow, stating that this information would be announced later.

Argentina allows cannabis self-cultivation

Patients, or groups, who want to access products in pharmacies, or cultivate cannabis plants, must still be registered with the ‘National Cannabis Programme’, through Reprocann – the Registry for the Cannabis Program, which was originally instituted by the 2017 legislation, but which was never actually operational due to a lack of regulation to govern it. When patients register, they can choose to cultivate their own marijuana, buy from a solidary grower, or obtain products through a pharmacy.

It’s good to remind here that simply passing a bill, or signing a decree, does not institute a regulated market. This decree updated the bill passed in 2017, but didn’t do more to offer a regulatory framework, which means in order for these things to happen, more laws have to be passed to provide details for actual usage. Even so, it’s nice to have the law on the books.

This new decree also expands the ability to import cannabis medicines. Whereas the Cannabis Exceptional Access Regime only applied to epilepsy patients when the 2017 bill was passed, this has now been expanded to include other ailments like fibromyalgia, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and other diseases and disorders that have shown to be helped by cannabis medicines. The government will continue to promote production of cannabis for medical treatments, and, in the same spirit as giving it out to patients for free, will guarantee availability of medications, even to patients who do not have standard health coverage.

According to Prohibition Partners (via Forbes), apart from helping sick people get the medicine they need, and expanding laws so that Argentina now allows cannabis self-cultivation, the cannabis market in Argentina could be worth as much as $40 million in sales by 2024. An increase in revenue has been a strong reason for legalization in other locations, and very likely was an even more powerful motivator than a group of mothers with sick children.

Mama Cultiva and the activists

Argentina is home to a group of influential activists known as Mama Cultiva. As the name implies, this group was started as a group of mothers trying to get medicine for their sick children. Mama Cultiva is an NGO that was originally founded in Chile in 2016, and has been working towards cannabis legalization since that time, both in fighting for new legislation, and providing educational information about cannabis.

Mama Cultiva was a strong force behind the 2017 legalization, and at the time was quite dismayed that cultivation was not given the green light. In light of this new legislation, Mama Cultiva’s Argentina chapter head Valeria Salech said “We’ve been fighting for this for three years… We’re no longer going to be criminalized for seeking a better quality of life for ourselves and our loved ones.”

She explained in a separate statement, “It’s not a law on usage. It doesn’t regulate cannabis. It’s a research law, and the fact that we can insert a mini-regulation in that research law for those of us who grow (the plant) for our health is a big deal.” Mama Cultiva is not just fighting for medical usage, but full recreational legalization, as the organization views it as important for mental health in general.

cannabis activists

To give an example of the level of dedication of Mama Cultiva, and why they are so committed, consider that the woman who made these statements, Valeria Salech, has a now 14-year-old son with both epilepsy and autism, who has been using cannabis treatments for six years.

This desire for greater legalization is echoed by the Argentine Cannabis Confederation, a group of pro-legalization product producers that are involved with the production of things like cannabis infused beer, and marijuana growing supplies. This group, which was upset by not being involved in the debates to determine draft legislation, thinks that the current law still doesn’t reach far enough.

Group president Leandro Ayala reminded “We don’t know what’s going to happen with low-level possession, which is what’s hurting us at the moment, the fact that we can be arrested for carrying two marijuana cigarettes.” He did say that he believes the cannabis industry could benefit from self-cultivation, especially in the form of supplying to these home-growers, but was still concerned overall about the issue of minor possession still being illegal.

He went on to point out that cannabis use shouldn’t have to be associated with sickness, and stated about the recent update in laws: “I don’t celebrate that because you’re only going to be able to grow if you’re sick, and in my case I don’t feel like a sick person. I use (cannabis) recreationally. Why do I have to use the shield of saying I have a pathology in order to grow when that’s not true?”

Conclusion

In a way, Argentina just tripped over its own toes, but not in the worst manner. Before even fully setting its 2017 legislative measures into workable motion, Argentina went ahead and updated them. That Argentina now allows cannabis self-cultivation is great. Going at this rate of updating that which hasn’t even been fully instituted, I can only imagine that a recreational legalization really isn’t too far off in the distance.

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Resources

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