Pubdate: Fri, 11 Jul 2003
Source: The Week Online with DRCNet (US Web)
Author: Phillip S. Smith, Editor


Deputy Irma 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.

"There are studies that demonstrate the efficacy of the use of this
drug to alleviate pain in the sick," Parentella told the Argentine
daily Pagina 12.  The primary pressure for the bill came from "the
opinion of hospital palliative care specialists who support the
raising of the restrictions that exist today in order to be able to
experiment and investigate" with marijuana, Parentella added.

But the Argentine Harm Reduction Association 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 communique 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.

The concepts of harm reduction have played a role in preparing
Argentine society for the notion of medical marijuana, Inchaurraga
said.  "Not only does harm reduction imply an acceptance that some
people will continue using drugs, it also allows us to address issues
around the use of marijuana, whether recreationally or medically, such
as marijuana in food form, the use of vaporizers and water pipes to
reduce pulmonary damage, and avoidance of things like sharing pipes,
driving while impaired, and not mixing it with alcohol," she said.
"One result is that people can come out from the shadows and speak
openly about the benefits and costs of marijuana use."

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

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 Nestor 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. 
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