Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

Marijuana plants grow on the heights of a farm in full sun, in a mountainous area near Rio: nothing to do with drug trafficking, they belong to a pioneering NGO in Brazil in the production of medical cannabis.

To get to the farm from Rio de Janeiro, you have to drive two hours, then follow a winding dirt road.

Upon entry, no outward sign suggests that 2,000 plants of cannabis are grown there to relieve patients with severe autism, multiple sclerosis or epilepsy.

And for good reason: this kind of plantation is not authorized by Brazilian law, and the association benefits from a special exemption by court order.

Margarete Brito, founder of Apepi, in front of a fridge containing cannabis oils for medical use, September 9, 2021 in Rio de Janeiro MAURO PIMENTEL AFP

"If we follow the legislation to the letter, nothing authorizes us to do that," admits AFP Margarete Brito, founder of Apepi, an association that produces artisanal therapeutic oils.

Planting marijuana remains illegal in Brazil, but Mrs Brito and her husband, Marcos Langenbach, obtained in 2016 an unprecedented judicial authorization to cultivate this plant in order to relieve the seizures of their daughter Sofia, now 12 years old. hui.

"In 2013, we saw on Facebook the story of a little girl with epilepsy taking medicine and looking fine. And even though it was illegal, I brought back 'oil of cannabis in Brazil, she admits.

Cannabis plants for medical use on the farm of the Apepi association, September 9, 2021 in Paty do Alferes, near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil MAURO PIMENTEL AFP

“At first it didn't make much of a difference, because it was industrial oil. But then we found out that an artisanal oil, made with the whole plant, worked better. So we learned to planting cannabis, "says this lawyer by training.

- Electric fences -

On the ground protected by barbed wire and electric fences, an agricultural engineer makes his way between the feet growing in large black pots, along the signs on which we can read the name of each variety: Purple Wreck, Schanti, Doctor , Harle Tsu, Solar, CBG.

Enough to produce therapeutic oils that meet the needs of each patient, with more or less high levels of substances such as CBD (cannabidiol), non-psychotropic and with relaxing properties.

Cannabis plants for medical use on the farm of the Apepi association, September 9, 2021 in Paty do Alferes, near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil MAURO PIMENTEL AFP

Using a pocket microscope, he examines each foot to assess the ideal time for the picking.

In April, armed police broke into the farm, along with sniffer dogs, after receiving a denunciation from a person who had come to work in the renovation of the laboratory.

"A lot of people have prejudices. We explain how our project works to everyone, but this person believed that we were drug traffickers and denounced us," says Manoel Caetano, manager of the farm.

In the end, when the police realized that it was a medical cannabis plantation, they put an end to the search.

Cannabis for medical use on the farm of the Apepi association, September 9, 2021 in Paty do Alferes, near Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil MAURO PIMENTEL AFP

"They even apologized, because they know that we have real social legitimacy. That's what protects us," says Margarete Brito, whose association has forged partnerships with renowned scientific institutions, such as the Fiocruz foundation or the University of Campinas.

- More accessible -

During the pandemic, Apepi has multiplied its number of members by five, from 300 to 1,500 members in less than two years.

Among them, Gabriel Guerra, 19, suffering from a severe form of autism and cerebral palsy.

When he was eight years old, he would have 60 seizures a day.

Cannabis oil for medical use at the farm of the Apepi association, September 9, 2021 in Paty do Alferes, near Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil MAURO PIMENTEL AFP

"But when he started to take artisanal oil, a few drops three times a day, these attacks stopped. He is more independent now," explains his father, Ricardo Guerra.

Thanks to the association, the products are much more accessible: 150 reais (around 25 euros) per 30 ml bottle, while imported products are sold from 600 to 3,000 reais (97 to 480 euros).

The Apepi is awaiting a new court ruling that could allow it to increase its production to 10,000 feet as of next year.

Ricardo Guerra gives drops of cannabis oil for medical use to his son Gabriel Guerra (c), suffering from a severe form of autism and cerebral palsy, on September 20, 2021 in Rio de Janeiro Carl de Souza AFP

But the association is not having too many illusions about an upcoming legalization of medical cannabis: President Jair Bolsonaro has already indicated that he would veto a bill being analyzed in Parliament.

© 2021 AFP

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