Chile is now the first country in Latin America to cultivate marijuana for strictly medical purposes, in what could represent the first step towards liberalizing the country’s drug laws.
On October 29, the municipality of La Florida in capital city Santiago planted 850 marijuana seeds to grow the plant for medical purposes, reported the Associated Press. The pilot project, which is sponsored by the local mayor's office, a university, and the non-profit organization Fundacion Daya, plans to produce cannabis oil for 200 cancer patients starting in May 2015.
In order to start the pilot project, Fundacion Daya and the mayor's office in La Florida had to get special permission to import the seeds and grow the plant.
Hannah Hetzer, the Americas Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance told InSight Crime in an e-mail that the project represents "the first exclusively medical marijuana program in effect in Latin America," since Uruguay's medical marijuana system has yet to be implemented.
Chilean authorities told the BBC that the country is also the first in Latin America to allow the importation of medicines containing cannabis, after a breast cancer patient obtained permission to import her cannabis-based medication from Europe in August.
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Like other countries in the region, Chile has begun to look at drug policy from a public health perspective, and the pilot project could represent the first step towards more liberal legislation. According to the Transnational Institute, Chile's current law allows the personal consumption of any recreational drug, but does not specify the exact quantities permitted. Anyone who grows or sells marijuana can be punished by up to 15 years in prison, according to the Associated Press.
Elsewhere in Latin America, Colombia, Mexico, and Costa Rica are currently debating medical marijuana bills, according to Hetzer. Several countries including Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Argentina have also decriminalized the possession of small quantities of marijuana for personal use.
Uruguay has gone even further, passing a law to legalize the production, consumption, and sale of marijuana for recreational purposes and medical use. Although a July survey showed that over 60 percent of respondents were against the law, the Broad Front coalition -- to which current president President Jose Mujica belongs -- won 15 out of 31 seats in Congress in the October 26 elections.