The story starts in a Ana Alvarez’s flat in Lima, Peru. Soon after, Ana will convert this apartment into a marijuana laboratory and underground medical center.
The public will largely sympathize with Ana. She will emerge as a national voice in the political debate, and her makeshift lab will be a symbol. Later, there will be an overwhelming victory for medical marijuana, as Peru’s conservative congress votes 68-5 on bill that rises out from here. But at the beginning this apartment does not feel like an origin of change; it is a place where Ana and her family struggle.
Ana worked as a dental technician and mother of four children. Her son, Anthony, 17, had up to eight seizures daily. He suffers from tuberous sclerosis, a rare disease which causes benign tumors to pop up on various organs. He also has been diagnosed with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. To learn more about tuberous sclerosis and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome click here and here, respectively.
Marijuana wasn’t Ana’s first choice. She tried to treat Anthony’s conditions with medication; or more specifically, with 17 different medications daily. Still, there was no relief. Anthony couldn’t sleep or eat; his seizures were progressing. Ana’s mental health deteriorated as well– at one point she considered suicide.
This was the way things were, until, after exhausting all other options, she tried treating Anthony with cannabis oil. Three days into this new treatment, Anthony began to make unprecedented improvement. The marijuana did not cure him, but it lets him eat, sleep, and connect with the world around him.
This is where the second part of the story began to unfold. Anthony’s recovery sparked Ana’s realization that she has tapped into a fight bigger than her own family. She feels other patients and their families deserve this, although marijuana is illegal in Peru.
Ana, along with another mother, Dorothy Santiago, developed Buscando Esperanza (Searching for Hope) to campaign for medical marijuana. In secret, Ana purchased black market marijuana and learned the trade of making cannabis oil. Buscando Esperanza helped patients and their families who need help managing the symptoms of chronic illnesses.
In February, the police raided Ana’s apartment. The public sided with this mother, working to aid her son and others like him. This sympathetic outcry brought about political change.
Pedro Pablo Kuczynsk, the president of Peru, proposed legislation to legalize marijuana for patients who qualify with terminal, serious illnesses. This move broke from the conservative tradition in Peru. Peru is right after Columbia when it comes to coca production, and so the country has worked for a long time to ward off illegal drug trade. While the medical marijuana in question clearly has different purposes, as well as a different chemical make-up– medical marijuana usually has lower levels of THC, which is the psychoactive chemical that creates the “high”– it still faced an uphill battle.
The bill just passed with a landslide of support. It enacts 60 days after the vote, which leaves some time to set the specific regulations. The bill allows cannabis oil to be imported, locally produced, or sold to treat qualifying conditions. Peru will join several other countries in South America who have also legalized marijuana in some form, including its neighbors, Chile and Columbia.
While Ana is pleased with the progress, she still feels it’s not quite enough. This bill requires cannabis oil production to be strictly regulated. This would exclude Searching for Hope, and other local organizations. She worries that these cannabis derivatives would be too expensive for her and for others in her situation. The version she had helped make were at a far lower price. They could also customize the oil for the unique needs of the hundreds of patients who use Searching for Hope.
While medical marijuana won the most recent battle, the fight continues, as Ana, Dorothy, and others like them fight for access to the treatment their loved ones need.