Patients anxiously wait to reap benefits of Panama’s medical marijuana law

By Ana de Leon

Panama City, Nov 18 (EFE).- Carlos Ossa, a multiple sclerosis sufferer, has illegally brought cannabis oil into Panama for years to alleviate the pain associated with his illness, turning to that product after traditional medications failed to ease his suffering.

“I now feel like a patient, but not someone who’s ill. I have quality of life,” that Panama City-based chef told Efe from the living room of his home while holding up a dark vial without a label.

Ossa was one of the promoters of a bill regulating the medical use of cannabis and its derivatives in Panama that was unanimously approved this year by the unicameral National Assembly and signed into law in October by President Laurentino Cortizo.

That law, which also allows the use of cannabis for veterinary and research purposes and is the first of its kind in Central America, promises to remove legal restrictions on importing medical marijuana, although a lack of implementing legislation still leaves cannabis users in a legal limbo.

Panama is one of 13 countries of the Americas where cannabis has been approved for medical and/or recreational purposes, legislative moves that were prompted by a wealth of scientific studies demonstrating its beneficial properties.

“Living without cannabis means living with a lot of pain,” the president of the Fundacion Buscando Alternativas (Seeking Alternatives Foundation), Luris Higuera, told Efe, adding that she hopes implementing legislation will be approved in the near future.

Patients says they remain without legal protection even after Panama’s medical marijuana law was approved and published in the Official Gazette.

“They could put me in jail. I’m doing something illegal. I’m still an illegal person with my hands tied,” said Higuera, who explained that her refractory rheumatoid arthritis is not responsive to conventional medical treatment.

Ossa said for his part that the medical marijuana law is as good as useless without implementing legislation, noting that the situation forces patients to acquire their medicine on the black market without quality assurances.

The only lawmaker to oppose a section of Panama’s medical marijuana law was the center right Democratic Change party’s Mayin Correa, who objected to an article allowing cultivation of the cannabis plant on the grounds that it could lead to more crime in a drug-transit country.

Ossa said the next step will be the passage of a law regulating adult use of cannabis for recreational purposes, although he acknowledged that Panamanian society is not yet prepared for that debate.

“We should be clear that this is coming and that the discussion is about freedoms and rights. It’s been shown that prohibition has not succeeded in defeating drug trafficking,” the activist said.

Ossa said that for now the struggle to legalize medicinal cannabis shows his side is “winning the battle,” characterizing that fight as one “for a life without pain.”

“Pain doesn’t wait (so) this is a human rights issue,” he added. EFE


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