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Chile Opens First Medical Cannabis Club

The first medical cannabis club in Chile, Botánica Orgánica Cannabis Internacional (BOCI), opened in the northern city of Arica in early September.

BOCI, which was created with the support of Fundación Latinoamérica Reforma (the Latin America Reform Foundation), and provides access to premium quality cannabis for people who are prescribed cannabis-based medicines but unable to self-cultivatee. Such patients may be unable to do so because of lack of knowledge about the cultivation process, limited access to growing space, or simply the debilitating nature of their illness. The club currently has around 20 members.

The creation of BOCI is the latest step in Chile’s journey away from strict prohibition of cannabis. The country, once renowned for its conservatism, is now leading the way on medicinal cannabis in Latin America.

In October 2014, the Daya Foundation planted Latin America’s first crop of medical cannabis in a government-approved pilot programme which produced cannabis oil for 200 cancer patients. The programme has now been up-scaled, with nearly 7,000 plants harvested in March 2016 from the site in Colbun, a small town located 220 miles south of Chile’s capital, Santiago. The site was chosen because it is free from environmental contamination and will thus ensure high quality plants.

The project will provide cannabis free of charge to around 4,000 people. Simultaneously, three major clinical studies into the medicinal properties of the drug will be undertaken: one for cancer patients, the second for patients suffering from drug-resistant epilepsy, and the third for patients suffering from non-cancer related chronic pain.

“It's very exciting for me just to think about all of these wonderful plants that are growing are going to improve the quality of life of many people around our country”, said Ana Maria Gazmuri, the president of the Daya Foundation. “We have heard of many stories, many cases and we know, we clearly know, how using cannabis for medicinal purposes when fighting against a serious disease can make a great difference".

The legal basis for such endeavours began over a decade ago when, in 2005, Chile’s Law 20,000 decriminalised private personal use of cannabis. More recently, in 2015, Decree 84 was introduced to remove cannabis from the list of dangerous drugs, and authorises the sale of cannabis-derived medicines on prescription at pharmacies.

However, unlike major pharmaceutical companies which seek to monetise cannabis-based medicine, Fundación Latinoamérica Reforma and the Daya Foundation are not motivated by profit. Instead, they work with the local community and provide free, or cheaper, access to the drug for those most in need.

The legal basis for clubs such as BOCI was further strengthened by a Supreme Court ruling in June 2015 which confirmed that cultivation of cannabis for private use, whether it be used alone or in a group, is legal. The case involved psychologist, Paulina González Céspedes, whose 41-day prison sentence for cultivation was overturned when the Court declared it to be “the full right of people to cultivate as long as this does not mean harm to public health”.

One month later, in July 2015, the lower house of the Chilean Congress passed a bill to further amend Law 20,000 to allow anyone to possess up to 10 grams of cannabis, and grow up to six plants at a time. Gazmuri says that this would clearly define personal limits and stop the violation of people’s rights, removing the discretion of the judge when determining what constitutes a “personal” quantity.

In a 2014 poll, 86 per cent of Chileans claimed to support the use of medical cannabis, and 50 per cent favoured legalisation of both recreational and medical cannabis. The progress on cannabis reform in Chile shows no sign of slowing down.

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