Drug policy reform getting closer in Chile

Latin American countries continue to demonstrate courage and vision regarding drug policy. The latest improvements are taking place at the National House of Representatives, where two bills (See the two bills here:  9471-11 & 9496) are being debated at the Health and Public Security committees. On the latest developments, the Health Committee agreed to mix the two bills into one in order to better channel the debate. These bills aim to legalize the growth of cannabis when its intended to be used for medicinal purposes together with the depenalization of  its use, not only for medicinal purposes but also for recreational ones.

It is important to note that while personal drug use is allowed in Chile, a series of limitations present in the current law, make it almost impossible, generating a series of negative externalities and the eventual criminalization of users. Other debates that have taken place at Congress, have to do with possession, the amounts of drugs that a person should be allowed to carry for personal use.

While other bills have been presented at both the House and the Senate on previous occasions, this is the first time they get large support both from the legislative and also from government officials. The work of both committees have included a large variety of presentations from civil society actors, the National Institute of Public Health and even drug users. Among other agreements made by the Health Committee, it’s the need to re schedule cannabis on the right list, as today it is part of the list number 1, that groups other hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine (You can see the original List of Schedule 1 Drugs here). The committee, for the first time,  agreed to send and official request to both the President of Chile and the Minister of Health in order to achieve the right categorization.

During her campaign, President Bachelet presented, part of her program, a compromise to reevaluate drug categorization and explore other changes to current drug law. As the debate is moving forward in Congress, the central government is also moving along with the work of the two commissions that are exploring possible changes to current policy. These changes come as no surprise, according to a yearly poll executed by the Asuntos del Sur`s Latin American Drug Policy Observatory, 48% of Chileans evaluate current governmental policies on a negative way. Parallel to that, important shifts regarding detentions have been seen since last year.

The debate regarding drug policy in Chile has reached impressive levels, yet it still needs to improve its quality and achieve the inclusion of more evidence, in order to expand to a larger fraction of the population and go beyond the simple demand for cannabis legalization.

It is expected that in the coming weeks, the debate will continue at The House, to later enter the Senate (Where a bill for regulation of cannabis use and growth has already being presented) and in the next months, the Government should share the main findings and recommendations to move forward. The public and sometimes silent work of different actors, especially from our Observatory, has allowed for an increase on political confidence, paving the way for reform.

Visit our Latin American Drug Policy Observatory.