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These are the Sisters of the Valley, a group of Mexican women dressed up as nuns. They don't believe in the reincarnation of Jesus, but in cannabis and its healing powers.

Sister Bernardet, part of the Sisters of the Valley:
"What we are doing is activism for the plant, to break its stigma. What I have always wanted, and what I am counting on, is to reclaim the plant from the drug trade, to legalize it. Because if it's legal, the problem will stop and it won't be 'bloody' anymore. This is also the reason why we do not want to ban self-cultivation for consumption. We consume what we grow, we don't buy weed from drug dealers. We use what we grow to make our own medicines."

Since 2014, the movement that wants to heal the world with the help of cannabis has existed and is active in Mexico and the USA. There they sell tinctures, oils and ointments with the active ingredient cannabidiol. Their effectiveness is controversial. But the self-proclaimed sisters, who reach almost 80,000 followers on Instagram, are concerned with more: they want to draw attention to the fact that the fight against drugs in Latin America has failed.

Mexico, in particular, has been marked by the drug war between rival gangs, and violence has repeatedly erupted throughout the country. To curb the influence of drug cartels, the Supreme Court decriminalized the recreational use of cannabis in June 2021. Possession of up to 28 grams of cannabis and the cultivation of up to six marijuana plants have been exempt from punishment since then.

For the nuns, this measure does not go far enough, but the Catholic Church finds it far too radical:

She warns of psychological and social problems as possible consequences of cannabis legalization. Almost 80 percent of Mexicans are Catholics – the influence of the church is correspondingly high. The activists dressed as nuns with joints and dried plants therefore cause offence in many places.

Sister Kika, part of the Sisters of the Valley:
"When people come to us because they see a couple of nuns with a joint, or they meet us at an event such as a marijuana fair and they become curious, we take advantage of that attention and can get our message across. We are not against any religion."

The sisters don't want to give their real names out of fear, their cannabis cultivation in Mexico is in a legal gray area. The nuns promote the complete legalization of cannabis and give workshops on topics such as infusions or plant chemistry.

Even 3000 kilometers further south, in Colombia, the legalization debate is in full swing. Here, cannabis for medical use has been legalized since 2017. Among others, this Colombian-Canadian company, which wanted to grow hemp plants on 17 hectares of land, was happy about this. But six years later, only weeds can be seen here, 200 of the 218 employees have been laid off.

Alvaro Torres, Managing Director of Khiron Life Science:
"The biggest obstacle is the inclusion of medical cannabis in the official health plan in Colombia. And that's vital for cannabis and any other medicine to be accepted."

The problem: The Colombian authorities would require expensive and years-long studies on the composition of cannabis-containing medicines, according to industry insiders.

Camilo De Guzman, CEO of Asocolcanna:
"Because of over-regulation, the domestic market is supplied by criminal, illegal networks and not by licensed companies, which would help us to maintain our business."

Almost half of all companies that have been founded since legalization in 2017 have now ceased operations, estimates the Colombian cannabis industry association "Asocolcanna". As recently as mid-December, the Colombian Senate once again rejected a bill to legalize cannabis for recreational use.

In Mexico, it's self-proclaimed nuns, in Colombia it's companies that want to call for a new drug policy and break the taboo on cannabis. Experts are also increasingly advocating the legalization of the substances in order to deprive the drug cartels of the basis of their business model. But despite small progress, there has been no real rethinking of Latin American drug policy.