After struggling in a bureaucratic limbo, the cannabis legalization bill in Ecuador got approved. This marks a historical date and the beginning of a cannabis industry that could benefit the economy, helping it to recover from the current economic crisis. Nevertheless, even if the bill is approved, the government still needs a regulation bill which will be discussed in the coming weeks.
127 changes to the Comprehensive Organic Penal Code (COIP) legalize the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of cannabis in Ecuador. The legalization also includes hemp. Both varieties belong to the same Cannabis Sativa family, but have different traits and uses.
What is decriminalized or legalized in the COIP reforms – in effect since June 21st – is the planting, cultivation, production, industrialization, commercialization and export of non-psychoactive cannabis or so-called industrial hemp, whose tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) molecule is less than 1%.
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The economic benefits hemp and cannabis will bring to Ecuador
While hemp has multiple uses in textiles, fibre, seeds, oils and medicinal products; cannabis is mostly sought after for its psychoactive effects because of its high levels of THC. The medical use of hemp will allow studies in the country on treatments for anxiety, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, among other diseases.
The text that allows the cultivation of industrial hemp in Ecuador is in Article 127 of the reforms to the COIP, which excludes the production, commercialization, distribution, use and consumption of this variety of cannabis from being penalized.
The reform adds a text to the Organic Law for the Integral Prevention of the Socioeconomic Phenomenon of Drugs and the Regulation and Control of the Use of Catalogued Substances Subject to Control.
It indicates that “non-psychoactive cannabis or hemp, understood as the cannabis plant and any part of that plant, whose delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content is less than 1 % in dry weight, is excluded from the catalogued substances subject to ﬁscalización, and is regulated by the National Agrarian Authority”.
Ecuador’s cannabis industry can now take shape
What was approved by the National Assembly marks the beginning of an industry that is yet to be born, but which first requires regulation by the Ministry of Agriculture within 120 days. The Ministry of Agriculture has a draft 26-page regulation.
The pre-Federation of Cannabis Communities of Ecuador questions the fact that the regulations prohibit hemp planting in border and coastal areas. It considers that there is discrimination in the content because small producers and peasants are left out. In addition, they refer to differentiated amounts of investment and values for guarantees, licenses, and fees for associations, without greater clarity.
Moreover, excessive powers are granted to the Ministry of Agriculture to inspect, sanction, and even destroy hemp crops. Likewise, the regulation lacks environmental considerations, since they believe that the market cannot be expected to regulate the use of agrochemicals.
The president of the Ecuadorian Association of Medicinal and Industrial Hemp (EcuaCáñamo), José Antonio Dávalos, also pointed out that the legalization should be simple and avoid what has happened in other countries due to over-regulation of the industry. The advantage, he said, is that regulation focuses on a single ministry and does not extend to more bureaucracy.
He added that the important thing is to avoid regulation leaning solely towards the medicinal use of hemp, leaving out the industrial part that is capable of generating foreign exchange and jobs.
What differs between the regulation of medicinal hemp and industrial hemp is that when it is a product that will be ingested by humans, the quality of the product is very important. On the one hand, ensuring that it does not have high levels of THC (1%), and, on the other hand, that it does not have traces of pesticides. For industrial use, however, these details are not so important. Therefore, if a ban on the use of pesticides is established, the industrial part would be affected.
There could be hemp permits in Ecuador in order to regulate the industry
Dávalos considers that by establishing permits for hemp cultivation only for legal entities, the Ministry intends to control and determine responsibility for production and marketing, and at the same time provide security when establishing the licenses. The small farmer who wishes to enter this industry will definitely have to form some kind of legal entity either by a corporation or limited company or farmers association, he noted.
Hemp cultivation is becoming attractive for the international market, said Dávalos, and more novel thanks to the advantage that Ecuador has. Due to its geographical location and climate characteristics, there will be possible at least three or four harvests a year, because the plant develops in a cycle between 90 and 100 days.
At the regional level, the sowing, cultivation, production and marketing of hemp has been regulated in Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina is moving towards that step.
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First published in El Universo, a third-party contributor translated and adapted the article from the original. In case of discrepancy, the original will prevail.
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