Panama plans to supply domestic demand and become an exporter of medical cannabis. With a new regulated law, local patients are celebrating this possibility and businessmen are counting the numbers.
Luris Higuera, 48, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and has been illegally obtaining cannabis oil for his treatment for four years, bringing it hidden in his suitcase every time he travels abroad.
“For so many years this medicine was out of our reach, it was demonized, restricted, we are seeing a new boom, and I want to be sure that all Panamanians are going to have it,” she said.
This remedy took her away from the cane and the intense pain. Arthritis has no cure, but it does bring relief.
“I used to live sadly and sometimes people called me bitter, but one cannot be happy with pain. My life has changed, my family’s life has changed, my caregiver’s life has changed, and my friends’ lives have changed. It is not only the patient but everything that is behind the patient,” she added.
Luris leads the Fundación Buscando Alternativas, which promotes safe access to medical cannabis. He carries in his wallet a small bottle with the oil, whose droplets he applies under his tongue during a break in the “Latam Cann Biz” that brought together foreign entrepreneurs in the industry.
“That Panama can export, that element of exporting and importing is very valuable all over the world. Here there are people from Canada, Germany, Holland, which are markets that need imports,” said Noemi Pérez, president of the Puerto Rico MedCann Bizz.
Although countries such as Uruguay, Colombia and Puerto Rico are already advanced in the region, entrepreneurs see Panama as a strategic point.
A law passed in 2021, which was regulated last week, begins to open the way for the industry in the country.
“Our intention is to promote, in the medium and long term, the establishment of local and foreign companies that can supply the domestic market, using raw materials produced in Panama,” said President Laurentino Cortizo, when regulating the law.
Article 15 of the regulation contemplates an export plan within one year. “Panama has all the opportunities to become a hub from the point of view of cannabis pharmacy, at the Latin American and global level,” commented Ingrid Schmidt, who led the business event in Panama.
She highlights the geographic positioning, the experience in logistics management and its currency, the dollar, as facilitators of operations.
The Argentine Lucas Nosiglia, president of Avicanna Latam, a Canadian biotechnology firm, sees Panama as strategic to industrialize and export the product and not to cultivate it.
“I see it more at the level of the chemical industry, manufacturing and logistics (…) the focus has to be on added value, in the industrialization process, maquila, registration, export,” said Nosiglia, whose firm has crops in Colombia.
“I believe that Panama does not have the best conditions for large-scale cultivation. There will be cultivation in Panama, but they will be more indoor crops, more controlled, necessary,” he said.
Investment expectations are growing with the recent regulation of the law.
“The regulation has awakened even more the curiosity of the business sector to want to see, not only if they want to be directly involved in this business, but also to know how they can insert themselves in their businesses,” Schmidt explained.
Cannabis For Patients
Carlos Ossa, 38, is a multiple sclerosis patient and medical cannabis activist, with whom he has been treated for five years.
In the first year of regulation of the law “3,000 patients may be registered, but I assure you that this will increase,” he said.
“This is public health (…) In addition, there are many people interested in creating jobs, in getting the economy going, an economy that is quite affected,” he said.
For Dr. Ericka Stahl, a functional physician specialized in cannabis, in “Panama it will be possible to apply every new thing, every new study that comes out, because of the robust regulations we have”.
She specified that the dose and the way it is administered depends on the patient. It is not always in oils, but also in lotions or inhalation. Always balancing the compounds.
“The harmony of all the compounds in the plant is what gives us the perfect medicine for the person I have in front of me, depending on their clinical history and their needs,” he commented.
“Social stereotypes no longer apply if they ever did. I believe that the protagonists of this are doctors, patients, economists, lawyers, farmers, athletes, children with epilepsy and even grandparents in pain,” added Ossa.