A bill to allow Chileans to grow small amounts of marijuana for medical, recreational or spiritual use won approval Tuesday in the country’s lower house of Congress.
The measure, which would allow each Chilean home to grow up to six marijuana plants, passed a vote of 68 to 39, with five abstentions. It still must go before a health commission and be approved by the Senate.
“We’re celebrating the overwhelming approval of this project,” said Ana Maria Gazmurri, president of the Daya Foundation, a nonprofit group that sponsors pain-relieving therapies, including the recent planting and harvesting of Chile’s first government-approved medical marijuana.
“This project is on the right path and we’re optimistic that it will be passed quickly. It should go through the health commission in a month at most, and ideally it should be approved by the Senate in two months.”
Planting, selling and transporting marijuana is illegal in Chile and carries prison terms of up to 15 years. Chileans who wish to use marijuana for medical purposes must obtain government approval, a process many describe as cumbersome.
“We need to stop judging citizens who are seeking recreation,” said Denise Pascal, a lawmaker for the Socialist Party. “We want to legalize the planting for personal use so we can stop calling people delinquents when they’re not. With this, we’re eliminating drug dealing.”
A Chilean municipality began planting the country’s first legal medical marijuana in October as part of a government-approved pilot program aimed at helping ease the pain endured by cancer patients.
Chile is joining an international trend of easing restrictions on marijuana for medical or personal use. More than 20 U.S. states allow some form of medical marijuana and Colorado and Washington have legalized personal use. In the Americas, Uruguay became the first nation to create a legal marijuana market in 2013.
Some lawmakers criticized the measure, saying it would lead to more drug use, especially among young Chileans
“This is a bad project and authorities have been largely absent,” said Sergio Espejo a deputy for the center-right Christian Democratic Party. “It hides the country’s public health tragedy with the increase in the consumption of marijuana among young students.”