Civil society's role in the debate on drugs in Chile

01 January 2010
Article

In the context of recent regional and hemispheric developments, also in Chile the issue of legalizing marijuana has become prominent at the level of the media, academia and civil society organizations in general.

In the context of recent regional and hemispheric developments, also in Chile the issue of legalizing marijuana has become prominent at the level of the media, academia and civil society organizations in general. The Minister oh Health has recently declared  in favor of the decriminalization of certain drugs, especially marijuana.

In May 2013, tens of thousands of young people participated in demonstrations in the capital Santiago and other cities across the country in favor of self-cultivation of marijuana. The protesters want to put on the "presidential debate an amendment to Article 50 of Law 20.000 on illicit drug trafficking, which punishes drug use in public places."

Many different civil society voices – including the Chilean Harm Reduction Network and Cultiva tus Derechos (Grow Your Rights) – are participating actively in the debate, arguing that the moderate and responsible use of marijuana is harmless. They contend that the main problem caused by drugs is not their use or the behaviours associated with it, but the crime-oriented policy used to control the supply and use of drugs. They believe that the proposals on home growing (or government-licensed sales outlets) would help to reduce the damage to health and the social and moral harm that the current drug law is causing in the user population.

MiltonFlores_copyIn mid-2013, the psychiatrist Milton Flores was arrested and charged for growing 120 marijuana plants on his own land. This led to a wave of protest in the country, including among politicians and academics. Many different sectors of society expressed their support for the psychiatrist, and this led at one point to the Supreme Court overturning his conviction. A court (Tribunal Oral de San Bernardo) later sentenced him to 541 days in prison for growing cannabis. In this article, researcher Sergio Sánchez Bustos analyses this sentence.