Wide World of Cannabis: The Women Behind Weed Legalization in Chile
Ana María Gazmuri is the main reason Chile is soon to stop persecuting cannabis consumers.
Published on April 14, 2016

Welcome to the Wide World of Cannabis where MERRY JANE goes global exploring the international marijuana scene.

This week we had the chance to go one-on-one with Ana María Gazmuri, the president of Daya Foundation, Chile’s most prominent medical marijuana institution.

Gazmuri is the driving force behind Chile's move to soon stop persecuting cannabis consumers and set up clear parameters surrounding domestic growing and harvesting.

Pictured: Ana María Gazmuri, Photo Credit: Catherine Allen

MERRY JANE: In terms of historic development, what's your perspective on the evolution of medical marijuana use in Chile?

Ana María Gazmuri: I believe we've witnessed a true Green Revolution. If we go back in time three years this would've been unthinkable, nobody could have imagined such a change.

The truth is that it's been a process of social mobilization and transformation, an absolute paradigm shift. The most important aspect of this matter is that the fuel for this motor is, actually, the citizens. There haven't been any attempts from the government to implement public policies regarding this new therapeutic alternative.

It is a response coming from public necessity, a way to deal with a health crisis. Also the consequence of acknowledging the reality around the subject: marijuana has been used medically for thousands of years, to put it into perspective, the "prohibition era" is just a scratch on the surface, just a small black spot in the ancient link between people and this sacred plant.

We can say with humility, but also with pride, that we have made an important contribution to this movement.

MJ: What's Daya Foundation's role in this process?

AG: Empowering the community, in terms of information and training regarding use and production of high quality medicine. This is the way to give autonomy back to the people, to take them away of the biomedical concept of Health. And that's what we do.

We do this by understanding marijuana as a "medical plant of domestic use". A plant that can be used, in a context of privacy, for thousands of minor ailments. The same way anyone can go and buy an aspirin if they think they need it.

We've been involved in developing the biggest marijuana plantation in South America, about 6000 plants. We also have doctors taking care of patients every day, for free. We hold conferences throughout the whole country, educating the population about the benefits of medical marijuana. We believe that these are the real benefits.

This is the main purpose of Daya Foundation, the reason we exist, to provide relief to human suffering. We also understand the wider spectrum of pain, because consumers are exposed to legal and penal persecution, something that can destroy lives and tear apart families.

That's why we fight, not only for medical permits, but also to stop the infringement of a human right, the right to choose.

MJ: What about recreational use?

AG: Well, that's a very interesting debate. I personally don't believe in such a thing as "recreational use", it is just a category that arises with the theme of prohibition. Without prohibition there is no recreational use, the boundaries between medical, spiritual and basic daily consumption were not defined before prohibition.

Every time you hear someone declaring themselves as a recreational consumer, and you hear the reasons they consider themselves such, you'll realize it is a therapeutic thing. If smoking helps you to relax, if it releases stress, if it helps you to laugh, or for any other reason... I’m not saying it's medical, but it looks a lot like therapy to me.

MJ: How do Chileans embrace this new future?

AG: Nowadays 87% of Chileans approve medical use. So 8 out of 10 Chileans will say something like "Medical use? Why not?"... That means we won. But in order to get here, we had a lot of work... seriously, a lot. (She laughs).

MJ: Who are the biggest detractors? Why was it so difficult?

AG: Well, conservative politicians and specially conservative doctors, haven't really been successful as detractors, they already lost the battle. But I guess it is simple; whenever you face a big change there’s going to be someone that will try to stop it from happening. For many reasons, maybe the previous way of doing things suited them better economically, or maybe it just fits better with their perspective of how the world should be, causing them to be more likely to try and maintain the status quo.

Reluctance belongs to the conservative part of our society, it's not necessarily related to just one political side, there are obstacles everywhere. Medical societies have tried to oppose this huge change, but ironically their arguments lack medical rigor. It's just an ideological and moralizing shout out.

MJ: What's the penal environment in which Chilean consumers are involved?

AG: This is a serious problem and there's a big misunderstanding surrounding it. The truth is that domestic growing in Chile is actually legal, that's what the law says.

However the problem is the whole governmental system. Starting from the police officer that catches you growing, all the way up to the judge that decides what your sentence will be, all are misunderstanding the law and, ultimately, applying it in the wrong way.

The consequences have been horrible: thousands of Chileans have seen their human rights violated because of the misappropriation of this law. And it's written right there! But still, most people that go to jail on drug related charges are consumers (as opposed to dealers?). The huge majority of whom were caught carrying less than 2 grams. Only 17% of police arrests actually involve real drug trafficking. Considering that every single process costs around $1000 USD, just imagine the enormous amount of public funds being wasted annually.

MJ: So how is the new law evolving?

AG: It's weird, on one hand, we've got a Supreme Court pushing forward the idea of the proper application of the law as well as a Congress that is mostly supportive of it's modification. On the other hand we have a very silent State. So 2/3 of our Government are on board with the idea of legalization and the remaining third won't say a word.

Among that third fraction there are some that still are taking shelter under the argument that these changes might send the wrong idea to the population. The mere fact that there is this paternalistic way of saying "we can't tell you that weed is not that bad because you are not ready to use it. We'd rather lie to you to take care of you" is being used as an actual official response, frightens me.

MJ: And what's left to arrive at legalization and a green light to consumers?

AG: Firstly we need a national order sent by the government to every single police department, explaining the proper application of the law. The meeting to discuss this should be taking place by the end of this month.

It all seems natural to me, they are the last phases before a paradigm shift. Even though Chileans have already surpassed those phases, whenever they see a prohibitionist explaining their arguments on TV, they won't believe them anymore. Because they know the truth.

The Chilean government is currently discussing a law that will allow consumers to cultivate up to 6 plants per household and additionally carry a total of 10 grams for personal use. Of course, this is not yet approved, and some congressmen are still trying to prevent these law changes from happening.

Wide World of Cannabis is a MERRY JANE original series profiling far flung parts of the world and how they have cultivated their own unique relationship with marijuana.

Simón Pablo Espinosa
I'm a Chilean trilingual journalist (English, Spanish, Finnish). I'm also the creator of En Volá (Something like "While High" in Spanish), an online community of reviews, jokes and funny thoughts, with a fast growing number of followers in social networks. As a journalist, I've specialized in chronicles, articles, columns and humorous scripts for TV. I recently published my first book, a theatre play named "La Casa del Sordo".
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