Deputy Irma Fidela Parentella has introduced the first bill in the Argentine legislature that seeks to open the door to the medical use of marijuana in that South American nation. The bill introduced last week would allow cancer and HIV/AIDS patients to use the herb in clinical research trials.
But the Argentine Harm Reduction Association ("Asociación de Reducción de Daños de la Argentina" in Spanish) also deserves some credit for the movement on medical marijuana. The introduction of the bill is an echo of the "important debates recently encouraged in the media by the Argentine Harm Reduction Association and its marijuana marches in the framework of the Million Marijuana Marches 'Cures Not Wars' campaign in recent years," wrote ARDA director Dr. Silvia Inchaurraga in a communiqué announcing the legislation. The last Million Marijuana March organized by ARDA on May 4, which demanded the decriminalization of drug use in Argentina and the medical use of marijuana, drew 12,000 people to a "Festival Against Intolerance," Inchaurraga added. Specific demands included "for the defense of scientific investigation of the therapeutic uses of marijuana" and "help for those patients who require its therapeutic use," she wrote.
"We want a medicine based on evidence, not myths and the demonization of drugs, and marijuana in particular," Inchaurraga told DRCNet. "ARDA is the only group in Argentina that makes advocating for medical marijuana a key project," she said.
That presents some political difficulties, Inchaurraga said. "Even for some progressive deputies, decriminalization is not a good word, and an openly antiprohibitionist organization like ARDA may not present the best face for a medical marijuana bill. But we are the only group that is making that demand. There are always political risks when mixing different issues. We always defend human rights and access to medical care, but we have to emphasize that we are not promoting medical marijuana because we want to decriminalize drugs. We do want to decriminalize drugs and drug users, but that is a different issue."
The bill will face certain opposition, said Parentella. "The response I anticipate to possible questions is 'what need is there that someone suffer when the possibility of easing his pain exists,'" she told Pagina 12. There will be "bigoted questions," she added. "One of the questions I anticipate will be that possibility that the drug will generate addiction in its users, an argument that is refuted by comparing the rate of addiction for marijuana, which is less than that for tobacco and equal to that of legal pharmaceuticals," she said.
ARDA is working with Parentella on educating legislators and the public on the issue, said Inchaurraga. The group is organizing a symposium on medical uses of marijuana at the National University of Rosario, Argentina's second largest city, which will include an appearance by Dr. Aquiles Roncoroni, a leading academic authority at the National Academy of Medicine. Roncoroni recently appeared with ARDA on the Argentine TV program "Key Hour" to promote medical marijuana, Inchaurraga added.
And while ARDA recognizes that getting the current bill passed will be a battle, it is already gunning for more. "If we can speak out, if the patients can speak out, if the people can come out from the shadows as they do for the Million Marijuana Marches, if we can mobilize to say that we do not want our people arrested for marijuana use, whether therapeutic or otherwise, then things will begin to change," said Inchaurraga. "We have this bill that seeks to legalize research on marijuana's efficacy for AIDS and cancer patients, but we will try to include Multiple Sclerosis patients, too. Then maybe we can actually begin the first study that has been proposed by the Drug Abuse and AIDS Advanced Studies Program at the National University of Rosario and the Santa Fe AIDS Program," she said.
"And then we will move on to the decriminalization of marijuana. We are working hard through the Argentine Decriminalization Campaign and we are working with some legislators and hope to have a bill presented soon."
The climate in changing in Argentina, said Inchaurraga, in part because of the opening created by ARDA, but also because of encouraging signs from the Argentine government of newly-installed President Néstor Kirchner. "I am optimistic because of the opening of debate around this issue in the last two years, but also with the nomination of Dr. Raul Eugenio Zaffaroni to head the Argentine Supreme Court. Zaffaroni is an antiprohibitionist who wrote the prologue to the recent ARDA book, "Drugs -- Between Harm and the Failures of Prohibition: New Perspectives on the Decriminalization/Legalization Debate."
It's always nice to have a friend on the Supreme Court.