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The Mother That Changed Peru's Relationship to Cannabis Forever

Photo from High Times: featured left to right: Dorthy Santiago and Ana Alvarez
In honor of Women's History Month, we want to highlight a woman who has made tremendous history is the world of cannabis.  Her name is Ana Alvarez and this is her story. 

In 2015 Ana, from Lima, Peru, sought out cannabis for a reason many others do- to feel better.  The weed wasn't for her, but her son Anthony.  Anthony suffers from Lennox Gastaut and Tuberous Sclerosis which cause recurrent seizures and tumors on the brain and other organs.  For his entire life, Anthony was on a cocktail of farmaceuticals that did little to nothing to alleviate his conditions.  Ana reports that her son would have as many as 8 seizures a day, as well as psychotic episodes that was leaving her distraught and with thoughts of suicide. 

Ana learned of cannabis' potential to help her son from a news report she saw about Charlotte Figi, the young girl in the US who also suffered severe epileptic episodes and found relief with cannabis after taking cannabis oil high in CBD - the precursor to the famous strain Charlotte's Web.   Ana relied on the black market to provide her with cannabis so she could test it out with Anthony.  She says that the first time he tried it he slept like he hadn't in years, was calm and experienced shorter and fewer seizures.  She had finally found something that relieved him and gave him quality of life that she had never seen before. 

Determined to continue giving her son cannabis, Ana clandestinely made extractions using alcohol and formed a group with other parents of ill children and adults who suffer from cancer and other severe diseases called Buscando Esperanza, Searching for Hope.  The collective organized with hopes that the Peruvian government would create policy change allowing for medical cannabis.  Meanwhile, they couldn't wait for the government to provide them with what they needed so Ana a few members decided to rent an apartment to grow their flower and supply themselves with the natural medicine their families needed.  Buscando Esperanza grew to 80 members by 2017 and was producing and distributing cannabis oil to those in severe need with the help of a sympathetic doctor. 

On February 7, 2017, the police raided the apartment and Ana and two others found themselves facing criminal charges and up to 15 years in prison. The raid became public and the outcry in support of Buscando Esperanza’s operation was massive and lead Peruvian congress to issue a bill to legalize medical marijuana.

The bill went on to become law and Peru now officially has a medical cannabis program but with limitations. No home or collective grows and only oils are offered with a prescription. Ana says that she fought so hard and risked so much for this and that the result isn’t good enough. She says she and the collective want to be able to grow their cannabis so they can control the strains and be able to balance the amount of CBD to THC, as well as other cannabinoids. What is now offered is only an oil with a very low amount of CBD, basically no THC and no other cannabinoids. There is only one way to source the oil and that is through DIGEMID, a division in Peru's Department of Health. 

To this date, Ana and other members involved have not been criminally charged and continue to fight for further progress to access to cannabis in Peru. 

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