Chile Brings up full scale marijuana decriminalization, again

In a battle waged for over a decade, legislators in Chile are fighting, again, for the decriminalization of all use of marijuana—medical and recreational.

Similar to many countries in Latin America, Chile legislation attempts to balance the need to facilitate access and destigmatize the drug for medicinal users, but also to take criminal action against black market drug traffickers who undermine the rule of law across Latin America and the world.

Today the nation is grappling with decriminalization of all forms of cannabis, but anti-decriminalization proponents attempt to undermine that effort.

Marijuana legislation in Chile

For Chile, regulatory questions around cannabis drug policy, medical and recreational, re-emerge every few years.

Since 2005, the country permits private cannabis use but penalizes sales and group usage. The legislation also leaves out statutes for legal possession quantities, rendering the laws challenging to execute.

The bill pushed decriminalization further than many other countries at the time but still generated many convictions on small possession and group use charges.
Decisions surrounding this question arrived almost a decade later, in 2014, when the government permitted an import of Sativex, a cannabis-based mouth spray developed by GW Pharmaceutical from the United Kingdom, for Cecilia Heyder, a lupus patient also diagnosed with cancer.

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Cecilia lobbied her government to permit her access to the crucial medicine which she indicated, transformed her suffering. “Out of 10, when I smoke the pain is four. When I don’t, it is 14.”

The import approval coincided with decisions to permit cultivation of cannabis for medicinal use in the La Florida district of its capital city, Santiago. The country’s agricultural and seed institution oversees the plantation, and designated cancer patients received the first medicine cultivated from the plants.

When this scheme emerged, the actions violated the country’s laws regarding cannabis cultivation, but ultimately spurred deregulation initiatives beyond anything legislators had yet proposed.


Building legal translucency but not transparency

In 2015, Chile’s President, Michelle Bachelet, recently named new UN Human Rights Chief, re-opened the country’s drug policy debate.

Bachelet signed a decree which recategorized marijuana, removing it from the “hard drug” list and permitted medicinal cannabis in pharmacies. The order gave the responsibility for the execution of the regulation to Chile’s public health institution.

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Today, four years later, the country’s legalization laws remain unclear. The drug is de-facto legal but the institutions designated to regulate and control cannabis have yet to release large scale guidelines on the control of the drug.

In the past few months, legislators have again pushed for full-scale decriminalization of cannabis, in effect making its legality official, but opposers launched their own “Choose to Live Without Drugs” campaign.

Advocates and opposers pick sides

Repurposed from an Icelandic campaign designed to prevent young people from using drugs and alcohol. The “Choose to Live Without Drugs” campaign is targeting decriminalization and users alike.

Iceland’s campaign brought their youth drug consumption to the lowest in Europe.

In Chile, the campaign expanded to politicians with supporters asking members of the Chilean Congress to take a drug test and publish the results indicating they do not use drugs.

Approximately 18 congresspeople are stepping out against this request to push for full decriminalization, as many before them have attempted.

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One opposition candidate, Deputy Diego Ibáñez, is at the forefront. He publicly admits his sporadic use of cannabis and forthright with the media about his support indicating that he wants to “leave the double standard behind”.

Chile has one of the highest marijuana consumption rates in the Americas correlated to the long-standing home-grow and decriminalization statutes.

Whether Chile will pass full decriminalization is unclear. As one of the first countries to relax its laws regarding marijuana, it could be left behind as other nations surge ahead with legalization and decriminalization legislation.

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