High time: Legalization of cannabis in Chile moves a step closer
The bill would allow residents of the South American country to possess up to 10 grams of cannabis and grow up to six plants. The marijuana could be used for medical, recreational or spiritual use.
"We're celebrating the overwhelming approval of this project," Ana Maria Gazmuri, president of the Fundación Daya organization that supports pain-relieving therapies, said as cited by AP.
"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,” she said, after the lower house of Congress decided to pass the bill - 68 in favor and 39 against, with five abstentions.
The use of marijuana is currently illegal in Chile and those found guilty of planting, selling or transporting the drug can be sent to jail for up to 15 years.
There have been growing calls in Chile to legalize cannabis, with surveys indicating the consumption of marijuana is higher compared to any other country in South America, according to Reuters.
There is still some way to go until the law is passed. The bill needs to be approved by a health commission. If this body gives it the thumbs up, then the lower house and the Senate will vote on the issue.
The vote is seen as important. Karol Cariola, a Communist politician and member of President Michelle Bachelet's leftist coalition, said as quoted by Reuters: “It is a historic day for medicinal users who wish to stop being persecuted and be able to access a medicine that they can grow in their gardens.”
A region in Chile began to plant marijuana under a government-approved scheme in October to see if cannabis could help with treating cancer patients.
However, the move towards legalization of marijuana has not proved to be universally popular in Chile, with some politicians saying it could lead to greater drug use, especially among the young.
"This is a bad project and authorities have been largely absent," said Sergio Espejo, a deputy for the center-right Christian Democratic Party, as cited by AP. "It hides the country's public health tragedy with the increase in the consumption of marijuana among young students."
In June last year, thousands of protesters marched through the capital Santiago to demand the legalization of cannabis. They cited the example of neighboring Uruguay, which officially legalized the drug in May, 2014.