Senator’s Marijuana Use Sparks Debate in Chile

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A Chilean senator’s admission to regular marijuana use has sparked a debate over the drug, with lawmakers tabling one bill that seeks to decriminalize personal cultivation, and another to automatically impeach any official who consumes illicit substances.

On July 22, Chilean Socialist Party Senator Fulvio Rossi admitted in an interview with La Tercera that he smoked marijuana “once or twice a month.”

Although personal consumption of marijuana is legal in Chile, the admission was met with an outcry. Senators from the rival Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party called on the country’s lower house to pass a bill, previously ratified in the Senate, which would amend the constitution to disqualify from public office individuals who take any kind of illegal drug. Rossi was backed by some members of his own party, who joined him in supporting a bill which would legalize marijuana growth for personal use. Currently, growing marijuana is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

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The controversy over marijuana consumption in Chile comes at a time when resistance to the US-led “war on drugs” is growing in the hemisphere. Drug policy was one of the top issues at the Summit of the Americas in April, with several Latin American governments expressing openness to legalizing or decriminalizing certain drugs, while Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has proposed creating government-run marijuana dispensaries.

If Chile, a largely conservative society, were to ease restrictions on marijuana cultivation, it could prompt other countries in the region to follow suit.

Ultimately, however, Rossi’s bill is unlikely to be made into law, as it has been roundly rejected by President Sebatian Piñera. The UDI initiative is also unlikely to pass, as there is not enough support for a constitutional amendment in the lower house.

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