Panama’s president, Laurentino Cortizo, signed a bill on Wednesday that will allow the import, export, cultivation, production, and sale of medical cannabis—a measure both applauded for the help it provides for patients and panned by some as too modest.
The move adds Panama to the growing list of Latin American countries that have legalized cannabis for medical purposes, including Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, and Mexico.
Under the law, the country’s Ministry of Health will be responsible for issuing licenses to manufacture and sell cannabis medications, which will be subject to strict controls. Meanwhile, the law will set up a registry of authorized cannabis patients, which will include information such as each patient’s required dosage and doctors authorized to prescribe products.
Independent Deputy Raúl Fernández told Cannabis Wire he supported the bill because “it will improve the quality of life of hundreds of people in the country,” he said. “The regulation was issued so that those who truly benefit are people who need medical treatment with cannabis products.”
Although many cannabis advocates have applauded the Assembly´s effort to legalize medical cannabis, some of them have taken issue with certain provisions.
The law states, for example, that five years after it is enacted a total of seven manufacturing licenses may be authorized ”in order to supervise and monitor the development of the domestic market.”
Carlos Ossa, a medical cannabis activist and a patient with multiple sclerosis, says he does not understand why the bill sets a limit of seven licenses.
However, according to Deputy Fernández, the limit on the number of licenses issued will not be a problem because “the market itself will gradually decide if more licenses need to be granted.” The number seven was not a whim, he said. “It came out of technical studies on our market.”
Ever since Ossa was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2017, he says he has been forced to travel abroad to bring back his cannabis-based medication illegally. “The first time I went to Panama´s National Assembly and said I was using cannabis, I was told I was going to be arrested,” Ossa told Cannabis Wire.
This is not the first time that an attempt has been made to pass such a bill in Panama. The first one was introduced in 2017 and a second proposal was presented in October 2019. Both draft bills were shelved because, says Ossa, “there was neither the will nor the commitment of lawmakers at that time.” The country’s National Assembly finally passed the latest bill unanimously on August 30.
Although Ossa is still hoping to see further revisions to expand the bill in the future, he says a little something is better than a lot of nothing.
“It is not the ideal law, but it is a necessary first step,” he says. “No country has legalized cannabis in a perfect way from the very beginning. I believe legal frameworks are often perfected over time.”
Deputy Fernandez essentially agrees. “I believe it is a law that hundreds of patients need right now,” he said.” It is not perfect, but it is perfectible.”