Peru, like most Latin American countries, has strict drug laws prohibiting the use of marijuana.
With the exception of Uruguay, which has fully legalized cannabis, medical marijuana is only available in Colombia, Chile, and Mexico.
In Peru, where marijuana remains illegal but decriminalized, an organization of women seeking alternative treatment for their sick children is fighting to legalize medical marijuana.
The organization, Searching for Hope, is backing legislation proposed by Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski that would allow marijuana to be imported and sold for medical reasons and could permit domestic production after two years. But members fear the country’s right-wing-controlled Congress will reject the bill.
For now, Searching for Hope members rely on the black market to soothe the symptoms of their sick relatives.
Ana Alvarez, a co-founder of the organization, admits she works with underground marijuana vendors to purchase cannabis oil. She said it’s the only drug that has helped contain her epileptic and schizophrenic son's seizures and psychotic episodes, Reuters reports.
Alvarez and other mothers in similar situations formed Searching for Hope in order to secure legal backing. But she said getting Peruvian government officials to back her project is more difficult than it originally seemed.
“We wrote to Congress, to the Health Ministry,” Alvarez told Reuters. “We got two negative responses.”
Roxana Tasayco, a member of Searching for Hope, shares a similar story to Alvarez. She said cannabis oil had given her terminal cancer-stricken mother her appetite back and calmed her vomiting and nausea.
“It's not going to cure her but it'll give her a better quality of life in her last days,” Tasayco told Reuters.
“If I have to break a few laws to do that for her I will.”
Earlier this year, Peruvian police raided a makeshift cannabis lab that Alvarez and other women started to provide alternative medical treatment for their relatives. Following the raid, Searching for Hope members marched with their children to demand police “give us our medicine back.”
Their struggle against the police immediately caught the attention of Kuczynski’s administration.
“When we saw their reality, we realized there's a void in our laws for this kind of use” of marijuana, Kuczynski’s Cabinet advisor Leonardo Caparros told Reuters.
“We couldn't turn a blind eye.”