QUITO – The recent approval of the use and production of cannabis for therapeutic purposes in Ecuador opens up many questions and the hope of a new industry in a country with a long tradition in the use of medicinal plants.
The measure has been especially welcome among patients, organizations of growers and researchers.
But they still do not know how it will be implemented if it is finally endorsed by President Lenin Moreno.
“Who will prescribe? Who will train doctors? What are the plants we are going to use, as well as type of seeds?” Professor Omar Vacas, a scientist at the herbarium of the Pontifical Catholic University, told EFE from Ecuador.
With two decades of study in “useful plants” and five years in cannabis, this researcher highlighted that Ecuador has native species with high percentages of active ingredients.
He said he does not know if the law will open the field to varieties that exceed 1% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis.
The approval, which was passed last week, allows the regularization of the production, processing and marketing of medical marijuana, and within half a year Ecuador could join more than a dozen countries where the practice is legal, including eight Latin American countries.
Supervision of the production process will fall to the Ministry of Health and will grant five-year licenses to producers, in addition to monitoring the planting, cultivation, harvesting, industrialization, storage and dispensing of the substance.
Other questions are whether medical cannabis exports will be allowed, what quantities of plants or hectares may be granted to farmers, if medicines are freely imported or can be produced on a large scale in the Andean country where Vacas said “there is a market of 12,000 consumers and a potential of up to one million patients.”
In the country 30 types of oils are already produced and sold whose concentrations are ignored, but according to doctors and initiates, they have helped patients who have obtained them clandestinely.
Self-growers hope that their experience in a possible industrial production will be taken into account.
“It is a great step even if the margins on which you are going to work are not defined yet, but it is good to normalize the plant, especially that those who need it for health are not criminalized,” Esteban Almeida, producer and vice president of the Ecuador Cannabis organization, told EFE.
In his house in Quito, he cultivates a dozen plants of different variants including sativa and indica and has been making oils, creams, ointments and seeds high in cannabidiols (CBD, a non-psychoactive component with medical properties) for the textile industry.
The fact that Ecuador has twelve hours of light and twelve of darkness, the volcanic soil in many regions, the height of the Andean landscape with great solar radiation and constant seasons, make it an ideal growing ground to get the best performance out of the plant.
And unlike other places, three crops a year are produced on the equinoctial line, something quite unusual, Almeida said.
Ecuador Cannabis president Veronica Solar said that medicinal legalization “has opened a door” for organizations and growers to work together “to maintain local production and not allow multinationals to take over the market.”
Dr. Cristina Martinez said she usually prescribes cannabis oil and creams in cases of epilepsy, Parkinson’s, autism, menstrual cramps, gastritis, neuralgic, rheumatic and chronic pain, cancer, AIDS and diabetes.
She said that Ecuador has a long tradition in the use of natural products, “given through our ancestors and shamans, people who know the plants and did not need to classify if they had so much of TCH or CBD.”
She also defended the patient’s right to be able to use cannabis at any stage of an illness, despite the fact that legislation contemplates only doing so after exhausting all other options.