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The Path to Legalization in Chile: From the Social Collectives to the Presidency

Chile decriminalized cannabis for medicinal use in 2005, through law 20.000, which allows the possession and transport of minimal amounts of cannabis, as long as its medicinal purpose is justified as indicated in Article 50 of the law. Despite this provision in the Chilean legal framework, there is still criminalization of cannabis users in the South American country.

Similarly, prohibitionism also extends to the cultivation of cannabis plants at home. There is a legal blockade that criminalizes any advance in the use of this plant that offers benefits in different areas of daily life, whether for medicinal use, gastronomy, or sustainable construction. In the words of Congresswoman Ana María Gazmuri, the first step is to stop criminalization; and in the long term, to legalize the use of cannabis in Chile.

Amid this panorama, hope emerges after Gabriel Boric's rise to the presidency of Chile. Before the electoral campaign, the recently-elected president favored decriminalizing and including a law that regulates the adult use of Cannabis in Chile. In his government, the issue has been included in the presidential, although there is still work ahead.

Several groups have already started work and, since June of this year, they got together to advance their efforts with a view to future legalization and regulation of the adult use of cannabis in Chile. The deputy and actress Ana María Gazmuri are at the head of the official commission called "Regulation for Peace", whose main objective is to achieve the legalization of the adult use of cannabis, and therefore, to reduce the market for drug trafficking. The ruling party's bench also has the support of the deputies from the Socialismo Democrático, Apruebo Dignidad, and Independientes parties.

Chileans Take to the Streets to "Cultivate Their Rights" and March "Against Drug Trafficking"

This July 3rd, along Alameda Avenue, the main road artery of Santiago, citizens joined the march under the slogans: "Against Drug Trafficking, Grow your Rights and Regulation for Peace". The demonstration was carried out thanks to the support of representatives of companies, movements, and exponents of cannabis use. The main demand of the demonstrators to the government is a change of approach, to replace the prohibitionist spirit of the law 20.000, to stop criminalizing the cultivation and use of cannabis.

One of the protesters, Francisca Gaete, executive director of the Daya Foundation, points out: "It is urgent to take a new look focused on people and their needs, and implement a drug policy based on harm reduction, risk management and also on pleasures, moving away from abstention as the only option, to design a regulation that does not leave quality or access in the hands of organized crime". Gaete also commented that the prohibitionist policy is far from combating drug trafficking and that it only persecutes people, since 70% of those apprehended due to law 20.000 are for offenses of possession, consumption, and cultivation of cannabis for personal use.

However, the legalization of cannabis in Chile still has a long way to go, it is not an issue that will be solved overnight, not even for President Boric. Cannabis is a controversial issue in Latin American societies, so it is essential to generate a regulation that allows the State to maintain control and keep drug trafficking away from the cannabis market. Because of this, the internationalist and professor at La Salle University, Norma Soto Castañeda, argues that cannabis regulation should tend to be as specific as possible so that it can satisfy society, and allow the government to maintain control and take care of its governance.

For professor Soto Castañeda, the government needs to approach stakeholders and make them feel that they are heard to draft a bill according to their needs and able to address different realities, whether patients, growers, pharmaceutical groups, or entrepreneurs, and recreational consumers. For now, time is playing in the government's favor, and the deadlines still seem to be long.

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