Chile’s lower house of Congress approved a bill Tuesday, allowing Chileans to grow small amounts of marijuana for medical, recreational and spiritual purposes. The lawmakers approved the decriminalization bill by a wide margin with 68 in favor and 39 against.
The measure, which still awaits approval from a health commission and the Senate, will permit each Chilean home to grow up to six marijuana plants. Planting, selling and transporting marijuana is currently illegal in Chile, and could be punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Those who want to use marijuana for medical purposes are required to obtain government permission, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
“This project is on the right path and we're optimistic that it will be passed quickly,” Ana Maria Gazmurri, president of Daya Foundation, a nonprofit group that sponsors pain-relieving therapies, told the AP. “It should go through the health commission in a month at most, and ideally it should be approved by the Senate in two months.”
Gazmurri’s foundation also backed the recent planting and harvesting of Chile’s first government-approved medical marijuana. The program, which began in October, was aimed at easing the pain suffered by cancer patients.
While supporters of the bill said that the move would help eliminate drug dealing, some lawmakers criticized the measure, arguing that it would result in more drug use, especially among young citizens.
“This is a bad project and authorities have been largely absent,” the AP quoted Sergio Espejo, a deputy for the center-right Christian Democratic Party, as saying. “It hides the country's public health tragedy with the increase in the consumption of marijuana among young students.”
However, a recent study conducted over 24 years in the U.S. found no evidence to suggest that legalizing medical marijuana makes adolescents more likely to use it.
In total, 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have approved medical marijuana use in some capacity, while Colorado and Washington have legalized it for personal use.