SANTIAGO, Chile — A Chilean municipality planted the country’s first medical marijuana Wednesday as part of a pilot program aimed to help ease the pain of cancer patients.
The 850 seeds were imported from the Netherlands, and oil extracted from about half of the plants will be given to 200 patients selected by a municipality in the capital of Santiago and by the Daya Foundation, a nonprofit group that sponsors pain-relieving therapies.
“We’re living at a time in Chile and the rest of the world in which it’s not reasonable to close yourself to new evidence. Marijuana can provide some dignity to those who suffer,” said La Florida district Mayor Rodolfo Carter, who was inspired to back medical marijuana while watching his late father battle cancer. “It doesn’t cure cancer, but we can alleviate the pain.”
The experiment adds to a global trend of easing restrictions on marijuana for medical or personal use. The permit is only for one year, but Daya’s president, Ana Maria Gazmurri said she hopes it will be renewed.
More than 20 U.S. states allow some form of medical marijuana, and Colorado and Washington have legalized personal use. In the Americas, Uruguay in 2013 became the first nation to create a legal marijuana market. Jamaica’s justice minister has announced plans to legalize the drug for religious and medical purposes, and decriminalize the possession of amounts as much as 2 ounces. And in Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos recently endorsed newly introduced legislation to legalize marijuana for medicinal and therapeutic use.
A law passed in 2005 allowed medical use of marijuana in Chile, but only with approval by its agricultural service. It approved one earlier effort, in 2011, but quickly rescinded permission after health authorities’ opposition. This time, the organizers won the backing of the state and a local university, which will use the project for research on the effectiveness of marijuana in fighting pain.
The 9,150 square-foot plot will be heavily guarded and monitored to ensure that none of the product — which includes the Durga Mata II, Wappa, Icecream and Pandora varieties — drifts into unauthorized uses.
Some Chileans already have been using marijuana for pain relief.
“I’m neither a trafficker, nor a criminal. The fact that I’m ill shouldn’t mean I have to hide,” said Cecilia Heyder, 47, who has systemic lupus and breast cancer.
Her cancer has metastasized despite the removal of one of her breasts and chemotherapy. Her body rejects opiates including morphine and tramadol, she said. She was recently granted a three-month permit to import Sativex, a drug derived from cannabis that has helped her relieve the pain, breathe easier and improve sleep. But she said she’s worried that she’ll run out of medication by the end of the year.