Meet Valeria, the woman fighting for legal weed in Argentina. Not because it’s cool and hype, but because her son’s life depends on it. Portrait of a Mama warrior.
In 2014, Valeria Salech and her husband gave their 8-year-old son, Emiliano, cannabis for the first time.
Valeria recalls that afternoon like the day she first really met her son.
“About 30 minutes after taking the resin, Emi started looking me in the eyes and smiling. He had a look I’d never seen before,” says Valeria. “That day changed our lives forever.”
Today, Valeria stands at the frontlines of the battle to legalize cannabis as the founder of Mamá Cultiva Argentina (Mother Grows), the nation’s most recognized cannabis activist group with a proud feminist agenda.
Coming To Life With Cannabis
“Have you ever seen the look of someone doped out on anxiolytics?”
I froze as Valeria’s question shot out of the loudspeaker on my phone.
“My son has had that look since the day he was born,” she says.
“Seeing that look go away thanks to a grain of rice of cannabis resin, I knew then and there that I would keep giving the resin to Emi, even if it just meant he could look me in the eyes and smile.”
That was 6 years ago. Back then, Emi (who suffers from epilepsy and severe autism) saw the world through a daze of pharmaceuticals and still used diapers and a bib.
I ask Valeria to recall the changes to Emiliano’s condition and behaviour over the years since he started using cannabis, and she sighs.
“That’s hard, because it requires me to think back to a boy that no longer exists,” she says.
“The same month he started using cannabis, Emiliano stopped using his bib,” Valeria recalls. A few months later, he started learning to eat with a fork, and after about 1 year, Emiliano stopped using diapers.
“Step by step, Emi has been gaining independence and the ability to show himself the way he really is,” says Valeria.
Seeing the way cannabis changed Emiliano’s life, Valeria didn’t hesitate to take it upon herself to fight for the rights of every other mom in Argentina who’s children or family could benefit from cannabis.
2016: The Birth of Mamá Cultiva Argentina
On the 22nd of March 2016, 2 years after first trying cannabis with Emi, Valeria sat in on the presentation of a draft bill aiming to decriminalize the medical use of marijuana in Argentina.
Looking around the room, she noticed the overwhelming number of women, in particular mothers, at the presentation.
“I said to the woman sitting beside me, ‘we need an organization to represent the women here,” Valeria recalls.
A little over 2 weeks later, on April 7th, 2016, she founded Mamá Cultiva Argentina (MCA).
Valeria laughs as she remembers the early days of the organization, storming congress with other moms to intercept deputies in the hallways and hand out their homemade brochures.
I ask her to tell me about her life outside of her activism.
“I can’t,” she says. “I was born an activist. This is my life. In kindergarten, I was the one who spoke up to the teacher to make sure all the students got the same amount of biscuits,” she laughs.
Since day one, MCA had a very clear mission:
“To demand a legal framework through which the Argentine state recognizes the therapeutic properties of cannabis and the right for individuals to cultivate it in order to secure a safe treatment for our children or whoever needs it,” says Valeria.
But besides its clear stance on cannabis, Mamá Cultiva Argentina also has a proud feminist agenda alligned with Argentina’s Ni Una Menos (“Not One Woman Less”) movement.
“I was inside the congress with the other moms handing out brochures and intercepting deputies when I heard the screams of the women outside,” says Valeria, thinking back to 2016 when she found herself inside the walls of congress during one of Argentina’s biggest feminist marches.
“We were being told how to live and being judged on whether or not we were good mothers. We were being told to heed to doctors and the police,” says Valeria.
“Once we realized that we were in the same fight as the women outside, we didn’t hesitate to join them on the street. It was an awakening, and from there on out we started to reveal all the violence we’ve suffered. And all the violence we’ve suffered comes from this capitalist and patriarchal system that oppresses us.”
In October 2016, Valeria travelled to Rosario for that year’s Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres (National Women’s Meeting). In one of the meeting rooms, there was a group of women talking about cannabis.
“I walked into the meeting and the entire room stopped to applaud me,” says Valeria. “I cried because the recognition of my peers, of women who like me had been battered by this completely patriarchal system, to this day means more to me than if I were to be applauded at the United Nations.”
The Times They Are A-Changin’
Today, the right to grow cannabis, the plant that’s changed Valeria’s life and the lives of countless other Argentines, seems closer than ever before.
On Wednesday, July 15th 2020, 6 years after Valeria first gave cannabis to Emi, the Argentine Health Ministry announced a draft of new reglementary changes to bill 27.350, the law that restricts the use of medical cannabis to public health trials on patients with epilepsy.
The draft makes big promises; the right for registered patients to cultivate their own medicine, the public production and sale of medical cannabis products at pharmacies, and free access to cannabis therapies for patients without health assurance.
And while it’s only a draft, Valeria’s gut tells her that change is on the horizon.
Since January, Mamá Cultiva Argentina has been part of an advisory council working together with other activist groups, doctors, universities, and institutions like CONICET [the Argentine National Scientific and Technical Research Council] to prepare its own draft reglementations of bill 27.350.
“When someone invites you to work with institutions like CONICET and the Health Ministry on a bill that actually plans to implement the change you’ve been fighting for, you tend to trust that,” says Valeria.
And while there’s still no news of when these new reglementations will come into effect, Valeria is confident it’ll be soon.
“If it’s not today, it’ll be tomorrow or after that. But I’m not ashamed to tell you that every morning I wake up and the first thing I do is check the boletin oficial**,” she laughs.
**boletin oficial – the gazette where the Argentine state publishes its legal norms.