#29 PRIME TIME: The Faceless Enemy

By: Marys Medicinal |
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At the recent CannaTech Panama conference I met Tarso Araujo, a young Brasilian. It was the sort of fortuitous meeting that makes conferences so worthwhile. 

Tarso is a journalist who wandered into a story about children and cannabis. The story was so compelling that he decided to make a film. That film is now on Netflix.

Called “Illegal”, the story will be very familiar to anyone who has followed the cannabis movement in recent years. The story revolves around several Brasilian mothers whose children have intractable epilepsy. When they discover cannabis can help their children the story unfolds. You might call it the Latin American Charlotte Figi story, with which most cannabis activists are familiar.

But what sets this film apart is its brilliant capturing of how insidious the role of the bureaucrat is in the global fight to secure legal access to medical cannabis. Like any large nation, Brasil has its bureaucrats, thousands of them. Initially the film’s main character, Katiele, finds sympathy from the bureaucrats as she explains that cannabis is the only medicine that prevents the dozens of seizures her daughter experiences daily. But as Katiele and her husband get closer to the goal of importing cannabis legally, the bureaucrats become more distant and less helpful. In one scene Katiele is on the phone and gets the run-around from a postal bureaucrat. As she hangs up the phone she says, “My enemy has no face.”

Katiele and her daughter.

In five simple words this mother has captured the essence of bureaucracy.

But the true banality of the bureaucracy is revealed in a particularly poignant scene where Katiele and several other mothers attend a meeting of ANVISA, the Brasilian Health Regulatory Agency. As the meeting begins you can see the hopefulness in their faces. They are certain the ANVISA Board will approve cannabis for their children, for all the children of Brasil who medically need the drug. After all, who wouldn’t? What sort of cold, heartless person could deny this undeniably effective medicine to a child?

The answer is: a bureaucrat. Watching the ANVISA chairman squirm his way through a bureaucratese statement of why the committee will deny the mothers’ request is akin to watching the mothers get a swift kick to the gut.  It is a tremendously moving moment and completely universal to anyone who has battled government agencies for medical cannabis. Watching their faces I was transported back in time to similar moments when I would sit before meetings of the FDA and hear the same inane excuses — thirty years ago!

Do yourself a favor, watch Tarso’s film. It will make you angry, it will make you cry. And it will remind you just why you are in this issue. The faceless enemies of medical cannabis exist on every continent and we must keep marching against them. The lives of our children depend on it. ❖