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‘Soy un Cultivador Científico’: Hablamos con Ignacio Peralta, el Primer Postdoctorado en Cultivo de Cannabis en Argentina

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Nota por Hernán Panessi publicada originalmente en El Planteo. Más artículos por El Planteo en High Times en Español.

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Una cosa llevó a la otra y esa otra a otra más. En ese balcón del barrio de Caballito, en Capital Federal, no había más que ladrillos, concreto y una vista hacia otro tendal de balcones. Sin embargo, a pesar de criarse en el corazón de la ciudad, el horizonte del joven Ignacio “Nako” Peralta fue, inevitablemente, tiñéndose de verde. “De chico, no conocía ninguna planta”, agita hoy Peralta, el primer postdoctorado en cultivo de cannabis en la República Argentina.

Contenido relacionado: ‘Vamos a Meter un Indoor dentro de la Facultad’: la UNICEN Tendrá su Propio Cultivo de Cannabis Experimental

De adolescente, mientras eludía a los tranzas, Ignacio tomó contacto con la planta y pasó, de una década a la otra, de fumar prensado a producir flores exportables merecedoras de premios y galardones internacionales.

Conocedor de los reversos de las fábulas ligadas al cannabis, Peralta considera a esa parte de su historia como un valor agregado: “No soy sólo un científico, soy un cultivador científico o un científico cultivador”, se ensancha.

El llamado espiritual

Su vida cambió en el año 2016 cuando, promediando su doctorado en plantas medicinales, escuchó el llamado de Valeria Salech y sus compañeras de Mamá Cultiva. “Estaban abogando por la ley y pedían profesionales comprometidos con la causa”, recuerda.

Algo le pasó, algo vibró dentro suyo, algo sucumbió dentro de su pecho. “Fue bastante natural la manera de combinar mi experiencia práctica de cultivador con el método científico en pos de la causa social para mejorar la calidad de vida de la gente”, reconoce.

ignacio peralta conicet posdoctorado argentina

Mientras tanto, en esas primeras reuniones y charlas con las Mamá Cultiva, Peralta advirtió que ahí había algo más, que tenía que participar sí o sí. “Quiero que todos los que necesiten cannabis puedan contar con tratamientos de calidad como el que tuve yo cuando era chico”.

“Cuando todavía se estaba trabajando en la Ley, ya se hablaba de tratamientos de epilepsia. Yo soy epiléptico, así que sentí empatía por esas madres. Y al ser epiléptico conozco las bondades de la farmacología la hora de otorgar tratamientos de calidad”, dice.

Contenido relacionado: Laboratorios Nucleados por CONICET Testearán Productos Derivados del Cannabis: el Caso Patagónico

Con la confirmación de la Ley 27.350, que habilitaba la investigación médica y científica para el uso medicinal de la planta de cannabis, el Dr. Peralta también reafirmó su misión: quería formalizar el cannabis dentro de la Universidad de Buenos Aires y el CONICET, sus instituciones formativas.

Una industria más grande

Su experiencia como bioquímico y doctor en Ciencias Bioquímicas especializadas en Fitomedicina lo colocó en un lugar estratégico. Enseguida, ya como becario doctoral, juntó voluntades y empezó a llevar adelante el primer proyecto de cannabis financiado por el CONICET en el que investigó a la cannabis sativa y a su potencial como medicamento.

“Tomé la posta de dar clases y divulgar lo que hasta ese momento se sabía”, asegura el Dr. Peralta.

Así las cosas, durante 2018, viajó a California para terminar con su doctorado. ¿Su objeto de estudio? La jarilla, un arbusto ramoso que se encuentra en las zonas montañosas del oeste argentino. Y lo hizo mediante una beca que obtuvo del Ministerio de Educación Argentino y la Comisión Fulbright, de Estados Unidos.

“En California me di cuenta que había otra industria que excedía a lo medicinal”, revela. De esta manera, la explosión de la industria recreativa también llamó su atención.

Trazar un camino

Rápidamente, Peralta retornó a Buenos Aires con la firme convicción de pedir una beca de postdoctorado. Quería estudiar formalmente el cultivo y la extracción de cannabis.

Contenido relacionado: De Fumar Prensado a las Grandes Ligas de la Investigación: Conocé a Matías Litvak, el Cultivador Argentino que ‘Viene del Futuro’

¿Cómo fue el proceso para solicitar la beca para hacer un postdoctorado en cannabis?

—La fundamentación científica estaba. Mis antecedentes, también. A esa altura no había discusión científica: los hechos son los hechos. Recibí muy buen acompañamiento desde el instituto. Me otorgaron la beca, financiaron un proyecto grande. Se complicó la parte burocrática, los permisos para trabajar con cannabis. Los primeros seis meses de mi beca postdoctoral fueron para hacer trámites. Estaba dejando institucionalizado que hubiera líneas de investigación de cannabis en la facultad.

Ser el primero que atravesó ese proceso burocrático, ¿facilitó que hoy haya más becarios doctorales en cannabis?

—Sí, el proyecto que conseguimos hizo que hoy haya más becarios doctorales en cannabis. IQUIMEFA (Instituto de Química y Metabolismo del Fármaco) se está posicionando, está consiguiendo permisos para conseguir materias primas, importando insumos y, con él, obtuvimos la autorización para el primer cultivo universitario. No se pudo llevar a cabo por la pandemia, pero había que hacerlo. Tocaba.

Y en lo profesional, ¿qué significó ser el primer postdoctorado en cannabis del país?

—Significó una oportunidad enorme para confluir los 15 años de cultivo, con 15 años de carrera científica y la enorme posibilidad de trabajar directamente con la planta que quiero y que me apasiona. Fue hacer ciencia básica aplicada a la producción. Además, me dio la oportunidad de viajar a países donde el cannabis está más desarrollado. Y fue un broche de oro para mi carrera como becario.

Peralta for export

Por caso, su experiencia en CONICET fue muy valorada en el plano internacional y terminó abriéndole las puertas de la industria. “He sido bien recibido”, confiesa, “porque la industria necesita investigación y desarrollo ya que, gracias a la ciencia aplicada, la Argentina tiene una oportunidad para destacarse en esta industria global”.

Contenido relacionado: Desafíos y Oportunidades de la Economía del Cannabis que Se Viene en Argentina 

Entretanto, buscando ganar experiencia en cultivos de gran escala, para el año 2019, el Dr. Peralta viajó a Santa Marta, Colombia, para estudiar el cultivo de la compañía Avicanna. “El cultivo experimental de laboratorio no es el mismo de donde va a venir la materia prima”.

Y continúa: “En Colombia viví un aprendizaje continuo. La empresa me puso a disposición sus cultivos y su laboratorio. Pude aprender mucho de los cultivadores profesionales e intercambiamos mucho conocimiento. Fue una introducción a la producción a gran escala y a la investigación de campo”.

Allí anduvo seis meses, escribiendo ensayos de campo en una producción a gran escala de grado farmacéutico y orgánico. “Quería entender cómo afectan las variables medioambientales y de manejo agronómico a la producción de principios activos”.

¿De qué van los ensayos? De sus aprendizajes: no siempre mayor inversión resulta mayor productividad; los tutoreos, además de prevenir pérdidas y daños en las plantas, modulan la producción de cannabinoides; no siempre una mayor cantidad de nutrientes genera una mayor cantidad de cannabinoides; y, asimismo, desarrolló un método para determinar el momento justo de la cosecha usando cromatógrafos para estudiar la biosíntesis de los cannabinoides.

A la sazón, la publicación de estos ensayos es inminentemente.

Un cannabis mejor

Más tarde, en 2021, ya con esa nueva experiencia sobre sus espaldas, Nako viajó a Uruguay para trabajar como master grower. “Me tocó poner a punto desde cero una producción de flor fumable de CBD. Ahí pude validar muchas de mis ideas en un cultivo comercial a gran escala”.

Luego de un semestre en tierras charrúas, Peralta volvió al país para formar una consultora técnico-científica junto a tres colegas.

Contenido relacionado: Manuel Belgrano y el Porro Nacional

“Mis compañeros, además de ser docentes e investigadores de gran trayectoria, tienen experiencia internacional en la industria. Pretendemos acompañar a la industria a través de nuestro conocimiento y experticia en todos los procesos de investigación, producción y desarrollo”, desgrana. El proyecto, de nombre NPR (Natural Products Research), tiene un lanzamiento tentativo para el mes de abril de 2022.

¿Cuáles son tus desafíos hacia adelante?

—Me gustaría seguir aprendiendo y aportando lo que sé. También, quisiera que se produzca cannabis de mayor calidad cada vez, un mejor porro para todos y, en consecuencia, mejor medicamento. Quiero seguir conectado con la planta, continuar aprendiendo de ella. Y que lo podamos hacer en un contexto legal de crecimiento y justo para todos. Todavía hay gente padeciéndola y nosotros estamos viviendo de esto.

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Marijuana security guards end overtime dispute after 5-year battle

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A five-year lawsuit about overtime pay has ended after security guards for Colorado-based marijuana security company Helix TCS agreed to drop the action.

The case was closely watched in the industry because of the broad implications it could have had on how state-legal marijuana businesses compensate employees.

According to Law360, Helix and a representative for the guards “said in a joint stipulation they would end the suit with prejudice.”

It was unknown whether the parties reached a settlement over the alleged overtime violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Security guards who worked for Helix starting in September 2014 joined the suit.

Robert Kenney, the guards’ representative, alleged in the suit that he and fellow Helix security guards regularly worked more than 40 hours a week for a 14-month span in 2016 and 2017 without receiving paid overtime in violation of the FLSA.

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Helix argued Kenney did not need to receive overtime pay under the FLSA because working for the marijuana industry was illegal.

That argument was rejected, and Helix’s appeal then attempted to escalate the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear it.

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Australia’s new cannabis import rules could leave non-GMP producers in the cold

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By Matt Lamers, International Editor

– Updated

Image of the Sydney Opera House

Australia’s Department of Health, preparing to overhaul its medical cannabis regulations, is poised to require that all products imported into the country’s small but growing market be produced in accordance with Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP).

The move would effectively shut out non-GMP-compliant manufacturers operating overseas by bringing production rules governing imported medical cannabis products into line with those produced domestically.

The proposed rules, which also cover labeling and packaging, are currently before the World Trade Organization (WTO), where member countries have until late February to submit comments.

One of the most meaningful changes involves imported medical cannabis products, which currently don’t have to adhere to the same strict quality production requirements as locally made ones.

The government currently requires Australian medical cannabis manufacturers to comply with Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards. However, a similar requirement does not apply to products imported into Australia.

That has led to charges of unfair competition favoring internationally produced medical marijuana.

Imported medicinal cannabis products will be required to be manufactured on sites with “acceptable” GMP standards, according to the proposed rules.

The companies importing the goods, known as sponsors, will have to maintain evidence to show compliance for each batch of medical cannabis products they import.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which oversees access to unapproved medical cannabis treatments in Australia via the Special Access Scheme, said it will provide “clear guidance” on the GMP practices and evidence that will be required.

The government has pledged an unspecified “reasonable” transition period so companies can adapt to the new requirements.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the TGA will not be requiring sponsors of offshore manufacturers to comply with a unique Australian manufacturing standard,” the TGA said in the WTO notice.

“Sponsors will be able to rely on a manufacturer’s adherence to an internationally accepted GMP standard – of a type acceptable to the TGA – that may be specific to that manufacturer’s country.”

The new rules will also require child-resistant packaging, plus:

  • Labeling that better identifies active ingredients.
  • Clarity on microbiological testing requirements.

“The objectives of the package of reforms are to provide assistance to patients and medicinal practitioners to identify equivalent products within the large range of products available,” according to the WTO document.

“This will be achieved by requiring more information on product labels.”

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Australia growing

Australia is one of the fastest growing federally regulated medical marijuana markets in the world.

But, at an estimated 200 million Australian dollars ($152 million) in sales last year, the country still lags behind Canada, which topped global sales in 2021 with an estimated 484 million Canadian dollars ($390 million) in sales of unapproved medical marijuana.

However, Canadian spending on medical cannabis fell to a five-year low in the first half of 2021.

Since 2018, there have been roughly 208,263 approvals for the drug under Australia’s Special Access Scheme Category B pathway.

Approvals by year were:

  • 122,565 in 2021.
  • 57,714 in 2020.
  • 25,160 in 2019.
  • 2,559 in 2018.

International companies are keen to capitalize on the growing market.

This week, New York-based producer Tilray Brands expanded its medical cannabis product offering in Australia.

The company also launched a medical cannabis educational platform for health-care professionals.

“As medical cannabis demand increases worldwide, we remain committed to providing (health-care) professionals and patients with safe and reliable access to the highest-quality medical cannabis products,” Denise Faltischek, head of international and chief strategy officer, said in a statement.

Tilray shares trade as TLRY on the Nasdaq and Toronto Stock Exchange.

Matt Lamers can be reached at mattl@mjbizdaily.com.

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Majority Of Americans Say They’d Vote For A Politician Who Smokes Marijuana, Poll Finds

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A campaign chaired by a former Arkansas lawmaker has filed a constitutional amendment to put marijuana legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot—and it’s facing pushback from advocates who are working on two separate reform initiatives.

Eddie Armstrong, a Democrat who previously served as minority leader in the state House of Representatives before leaving office in 2019, first unveiled the plan to pursue legalization through the ballot late last year. Now that Armstrong’s group Responsible Growth Arkansas has formally filed the measure, its details are available.

The Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Existing medical cannabis dispensaries would be permitted to sell in the recreational market starting March 8, 2023, giving them an advantage.

Under the proposal, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing marijuana business licenses. There would be a two-tiered approach to cultivator licensing, with the first tier being reserved for eight existing dispensaries and the second tier going to 12 other applicants through a lottery system.

The measure would also repeal and replace certain provisions of the state’s medical marijuana law, which was approved by voters at the ballot in 2016. Language would be updated for rules on advertising, packaging, labeling and purchase limits.

Advocates who are collecting signatures for separate legalization ballot measures have raised concerns that the Responsible Growth Arkansas proposal would deliberately benefit a select number of businesses, including those that have financially backed it, and stamp out competition.

The five donors who contributed $350,000 each to the campaign—Bold Team, Good Day Farms Arkansas, Osage Creek Cultivation, DMCC and NSMC-OPCO—are all existing cultivators, The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Armstrong argued that his proposal is a “more responsible and regulated approach to expanding into this adult cannabis space for Arkansas,” and the campaign “took a look at how this could be done in a meaningful and well-regulated way for Arkansans.”

A 10 percent supplemental sales tax would be imposed on retail marijuana sales. Revenue would be used for law enforcement funding (15 percent), the University of Arkansas (10 percent), drug court programs (five percent), and the remainder would go to the state general fund after covering administrative costs.

Another issue with the new initiative for advocates is the lack of equity provisions. The measure does not provide a pathway for expungements, nor does it give licensing priorities to communities disproportionately impacted under prohibition.

There are two other campaigns that have already laid the groundwork to put cannabis legalization on the ballot this year. And both of those included equity components in their measures.

Arkansans for Marijuana Reform submitted the proposed constitutional amendment to the secretary of state’s office last year. It would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to four ounces of cannabis flower, two ounces of concentrates and cultivate up to six mature marijuana plants and six seedlings for personal use.

Under the group’s proposal, the state Department of Finance and Administration would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses. They would have to issue at least one retail license per 15,000 residents. No individual or entity could possess more than one cultivation and one dispensary license.

Mellisa Fults of Arkansans for Marijuana Reform slammed the new measure from Armstrong’s group, saying “its’ going to be a horrible monopoly.”

“It’s going to be awful for the state,” she told the Democrat-Gazette. “There’s no expungement of records, so they’re going to be making millions upon millions of dollars when there’s people who still have a felony on their record for a joint.”

In contrast, under Fults’s measure, courts would be obligated to provide relief to people with past convictions for possession or sales of up to 16 ounces of cannabis or six plants. However, they would have some discretion as to whether relief constitutes release from incarceration, expungements of past records and/or the restoration of voting rights.

A separate group of activists with Arkansas True Grass is already in the signature gathering process for a 2022 ballot initiative that would create a system of regulated sales for adults 21 and older, allowing them to purchase up to four ounces of cannabis and grow up to 12 plants for personal use.

True Grass spokesperson Jesse Raphael called the new measure from Responsible Growth Arkansas “a power grab by the medical monopoly.”

“It locks in all of the production for the recreational marijuana for the current producers of medical marijuana,” he said.

Both True Grass and Arkansans for Marijuana Reform attempted to place marijuana legalization initiatives on the 2020 ballot, but both campaigns were derailed by the coronavirus pandemic and failed to collect enough signatures by the deadline.

That’s despite a federal judge’s ruling in May 2020 that the secretary of state needed accept signatures that were not collected in-person or notarized due to the excess burdens that arose during the health crisis.

Read the text of the latest medical cannabis legalization ballot initiative below: 

South Carolina Senate Begins Long-Anticipated Medical Marijuana Debate

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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