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Marijuana Reform Advances in Chile

CHILE / 7 APR 2015 BY LOREN RIESENFELD EN

A committee in Chile’s Congress has paved the way for partial marijuana legalization, following efforts to decriminalize personal consumption of the drug and allow for its medical use, all of which could eventually undermine a valuable smuggling trade in Paraguay. 

While still far from being law -- the reform still has to be approved by the lower and upper houses of Chile's Congress -- the Health Committee in the House of Deputies has approved a change to Chile’s drug control law that will allow people to grow marijuana for medical and recreational purposes, reported La Tercera.

The proposed change would allow individuals to legally possess up to 10 grams of marijuana and permit households to cultivate up to six plants, both of which are illegal under the current law. Medical prescriptions would be available, and recreational consumption in a private setting -- already decriminalized -- would be legal, although consumption in public would still be penalized.

Chile has been moving towards marijuana liberalization for years, and consumption trends among a historically conservative population have risen, especially in younger demographics. Indeed, the country began its first pilot project to grow medical marijuana last October, and President Michelle Bachelet has previously signaled an openness to drug policy reform.

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Reforming drug control laws from the supply side -- by allowing people to grow their own marijuana for recreational purposes -- might put a dent in a lucrative smuggling trade, in which marijuana is moved from Paraguay to Bolivia and Argentina into Chile.

Much of Chile's marijuana comes from Paraguay, the largest marijuana producer in South America. A kilo there costs around $45, while in Chile the same kilo can be sold for $800 to $900, a huge price differential that makes smuggling immensely profitable. If Chile's reform allows people to grow their own marijuana, the profit margins on illegally trafficked marijuana from Paraguay may decrease.

Notably, the proposed change wouldn’t reduce penalties for “mules,” people who transport drugs across the Peruvian and Bolivian border into northern Chile, who also tend to come from low-income backgrounds and are recruited into the smuggling trade with promises of easy money and low risk.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Drug Policy

Instead, Chile’s approach closely mirrors the “legalization without commercialization” effort in the District of Columbia, a recent law that allowed personal consumption and production of marijuana in the US capital but prohibited all sales. If Chile's reform passes, the drug control law would not regulate commercial sales of the drug like in Colorado, Washington, or Uruguay.

The United Nations body responsible for overseeing international drug conventions recently criticized Latin America's incremental efforts to reform drug control laws, as many countries in the region have started treating drug use as a public health issue. In contrast, US officials have recently struck a softer tone

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