Ana Cristina Ramos, the head of PR and content, Oscar Martin Maldonado, editor in chief and Marcelo Ayala Vargas, editor and creative, all live in Ecuador. They founded a company named Paralelo. What this company does is attempt to destigmatize the plant through their media outreach skills. A country such as Ecuador is going through massive change with regard to cannabis. Growing and smoking the plant was illegal in Ecuador for many decades, this made cannabis illegitimate and without purpose. Paralelo is uniquely charged with the dissemination of journalistic quality information regarding education and research into cannabis in Ecuador. They provide reliable, pertinent fact based research on the topic of cannabis. About a month ago on zoom, we spent nearly an hour sharing thoughts and enjoying a virtual glass of wine together. Instead of the wine, like they were drinking, I was enjoying a bit of Green Bodhi’s Tenzin Kush #4 in the Sherlock Pipe. Truly a pleasure to enjoy such creative expansion in the company of enthusiastic entrepreneurs nearly half my age. Their journalistic path in Ecuador is enlightening as it brings a new kind of cannabis research skills to a larger audience. They do this in a place not known for being very open to the plant. Paralelo is bringing this information to the people, by the people.
Warren Bobrow=WB: Why Cannabis? How did you discover the plant? How do you use it? (Smoke, eat, vape?) Who were you with the first time you smoked?
Ana: Because I can’t get around the fact that I could go to jail for using a plant that heals me. I need to share how good it’s been for me and I want other people to try it without getting in trouble. I first smoked it when I was 18 and I didn’t like it. It was really bad, poorly grown weed. I tried it again at 23, that time more aware of how and why I was doing it and I haven’t stopped since. Now I smoke it, eat it, drink it and put it on my skin daily.
Marcelo: Because we must end this nonsense surrounding the plant, especially in countries like Ecuador. Here we need to educate, investigate more and specially we need decent cannabis related contents and reliable information. Since we started as Paralelo in 2018 to read more and to investigate cannabis in our country it became a sort of obsession, a subject of study and an opportunity to develop a media company to cover all things cannabis in Ecuador. I’m a journalist and I am set to discover the actors shaping cannabis in the country and to understand how the different cannabis scenes operate. I discovered cannabis when I was 14 when an American boyfriend of a cousin brought some weed to the family Christmas party and he shared some with me.
Oscar: I started to get close to cannabis at 28 while living in Brazil. That came about frequenting people or places where cannabis was being consumed. At the time I started puffing every now and then when someone offered it to me or when it happened to be going around at a party. After that, I started to have it in my radar as a substance to take a break, relax and enjoy. However, I think I’ve only really discovered the plant in the past 4 years when we started to develop communication around it but especially after I started my first basic grow at home. I bought seeds, germinated them and brought them up the best way I knew, watching tutorials and consulting with people who knew it way better. As a consequence I also started consuming cannabis more. Now when I consume I mostly smoke it. Recently I have taken an interest in cannabis oil as an alternative but I still prefer to burn it. I have tried edibles several times and I like it but I’d rather just smoke it, I think the act of lighting up adds fun to it. I smoke cannabis because it has the ability to make me function at a different frequency. It brings me peace, tranquility and I feel it makes me have a closer relationship with myself. Being under cannabis influence makes me take a pause and stare at life a bit more, which has benefits. The first time I smoked cannabis I was 18 and I was living in the United States. I was a foreign exchange student in the Midwest and found out to my surprise that many people in my high school were smoking it. I had it for the first time at a party in a small town in winter. It was crazy cold and snowy outside so being indoors partying with a bunch of juniors and seniors was the only thing left to do. At the time I didn’t think much of it, I didn’t like it. I did it a couple more times but after I returned to my home country I didn’t take a second look at it until the time I went to Brazil.
WB: What does cannabis do for you that pharmaceuticals cannot do? How is cannabis treated in your country? What is the perception of cannabis? Stigmas?
Ana: Cannabis saved my life. After 10 years of taking hormones, painkillers and having surgery twice for my endometriosis, I replaced pills with cannabis oil in 2015 and my body started healing immediately. Cannabis gives me pain relief and keeps my cysts small. Cannabis is partially illegal in Ecuador. That’s why I either have to buy my oil overseas or make it myself. Here it is largely perceived as a dangerous drug. However more people have been “leaving the cannabis closet” and have turned curious about it because of its therapeutic benefits.
In Ecuador sometimes it feels that the stigma around cannabis is slowly weakening, but to the eyes of many, consumers are still being labelled as criminals and lowlifes. While non psychoactive cannabis is being discussed to be regulated promising a thriving industry for investors; thousands of people are sitting in jail for simple consumption of trafficking.
WB: Tell me about what you do? What are your six and twelve month ambitions? Are you able to make a living with this passion?
Marcelo: Together with Oscar we started Paralelo in 2016 as a small independent media company. We both are journalists who were lucky enough to study abroad, which opened our eyes to trying new media contents, subjects and formats. In 2018 that drove us to make a documentary titled “El Otro Verde” which portrays the Ecuadorian cannabis scene. The film made its way to the 2019 International Cannabis Film Festival as part of Expocannabis Uruguay. The documentary opened up opportunities within the community and industry in Ecuador as well. This is when we met Ana.
Ana: I have been doing research about the industry for some time, going to summits and expos in the US and trying to understand how the business works. I am an event planner and a cannabis patient, so it was important for me to get full understanding and make sure that as it starts in Ecuador, it is as forward and diverse as possible.
That’s when I founded MUCA.ec (Mujeres Cannabicas Ecuador) as a channel to get more women professionally in the industry. Working with Paralelo became a chance to expand my knowledge and my message.
Marcelo: We worked for months building a network and getting advice from cannabis journalists and producers in Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay and Argentina. With their guidance and support we are organizing Expocannabis Ecuador 2021. An event dedicated both to the industry and educating people about this plant’s benefits. Cannabis culture is rising and we are building and leading the conversation around it. Whether you are an investor, a politician, an entrepreneur, a grower or just a tourist looking for good quality products; we know who and where to go.
Our goals are aimed towards building a strong cannabis community around us and connecting with folks, companies, organizations and events both locally and internationally. Our cannabis dedicated media outlet is soon to come out.
As we envision it, it will be the go-to-place, membership supported channel to obtain information related to cannabis in Ecuador and to bring underreported subjects to the surface.
WB: What is your favorite kind of food? Do you have a favorite food memory? What does a typical meal look like? What kind of wine is your favorite?
Ana: Peruvian ceviche. Octopus ceviche, it is fresh and spicy. My typical meals have green plantains, some kind of grain (beans or lentils), and lots of vegetables. I love meat but eat it rarely. My best food memory is making Colombian arepas with my mom when I was little. It took us about 7 hours to make 100 arepas. It was quality time spent together and at the end of the evening I was the first to try them. My favorite wine is Malbec since I was heavily indoctrinated by Argentinians while going to college in Buenos Aires.
Oscar: I enjoy cheese, wine and grilled vegetables. I also like pasta a lot. A big hail mary to tomato no doubt! I do a lot of recipes with it. One of my favorite food memories involves the first time I had Brazilian “churrasco”, just watching the way they prepare meat and the way in which they serve it: in small pieces and on a rolling basis throughout a party with caipirinhas alongside. Those are good memories.
I regret that I enjoy wine a lot but I have a hard time making a distinction between different types. I have clues about the difference between merlot and sauvignon but it’s still hard sometimes to tell the difference. That being said, I enjoy Spanish wines a lot, especially a local one called Sangre de Toro. I also like Argentinian a lot. I think I try to follow up on convention regarding which wines go better with certain foods, but I go off rule on it sometimes. White wine is great but not as great as red. I enjoy Spanish Albariño but I mostly drink white wine during daytime and if it’s hot outside.
Marcelo: Definitively seafood. Shrimp, octopus, fish, lobster, crab, you name it. Regardless of preparation method I think seafood is the best meal you can have. Probably my best food memory is the first time I tried lobster. It was in Ayampe, an amazing beach in Ecuador with my dad and my sister. My typical meal has desert. Yes, deserts are my weak point. My type of wine is merlot and I really enjoy shiraz and pinot noir.
WB: What is your passion?
Ana: I love making people have a good time. That’s why I studied event planning. Designing experiences to get a message through is what is most important to me. That and growing my own cannabis.
Oscar: I enjoy cooking in good company, being close to nature, water and plants (an interesting side effect of cannabis has been an increased love and respect for plant life). I love prepping and lighting up some good weed on a Friday night with music, friends and a chat. Sometimes if it’s stoner chat it just makes it all better!. I enjoy my profession, finding out where stories are, interviewing people, and putting them together to make it come alive. Journalism is a big part of my life.
Marcelo: Since we launched Paralelo I don’t think about anything else. It has been my obsession for the past 4 years. I am constantly thinking about journalism, business models, reaching audiences and ways to involve them more in our work winning their trust. My work is my current passion.