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(Ed. Note: Chile’s governmental late last year mysteriously decided to “upgrade” marijuana from recreational to “hard drug” status. The weekly investigative magazine The Clinic tried – in vain – to determine which official, in which bureaucracy and under whose order encouraged the new designation.
The column below was taken from last week’s The Clinic and argues that the new classification for marijuana is stupid and self-defeating. The Santiago Times believes marijuana, like other recreational drugs such as alcohol and cigarettes, could be legalized, and then regulated and taxed stiffly.)
Chile’s executive leaders – specifically, people in the Interior Ministry and CONACE (Chile’s National Council for Drug Control) – recently took a step in the wrong direction concerning illegal drugs.
In spite of the scientific evidence (and common sense), officials have incorporated marijuana in the same list as the most dangerous drugs. This was done, apparently, to adjust criminal law to the to the new anti narco-trafficking law. In practice, this means those who are found to be marijuana drug dealers and consumers, under articles three and four of the new law, will now receive severe legal punishment. This seems extreme. But first, here is a little about the history of marijuana.
Marijuana has been linked to mankind since the beginning of time. In 2737 A.D. the Chinese used the herb as medicine, and at times for recreation, practices which later spread to all of Asia. In general, the use of marijuana went unnoticed, unlike alcohol or hallucinogenic drugs, which were consumed more frequently and at mass levels.
Controversy over marijuana first began in 1937 in the United States, with the approval of the Marijuana Tax Act on August 2. During a very strange time of hysteria and ignorance, the law was passed, prohibiting the sale and consumption of marijuana under the supposition that the drug causes degenerative brain disorders in users, and was the source of delinquency and sex crimes - especially among blacks and mestizos against white women.
The only expert witness to testify before the law was passed in the U.S. Congress was Dr. Woodward from the American Medical Association. He testified that the law was nonsensical, and that marijuana shouldn’t be categorized along with other narcotic drugs (opiates) and cocaine. Congress accused him of obstructing justice for not supporting the suppressive initiative, and legislators quickly approved the law. As a side note, before this law, alcohol was outlawed under the laws of Prohibition in 1919, but selling, buying, and consuming marijuana was perfectly legal.
In Chile, the history of marijuana is very different. Since the beginning of the governing center-left Concertation coalition, Chile has been a relaxed country. As an example, while the 1961 International Convention concerning drug control in New York City listed marijuana as a prohibited drug, it was legal in Chile up to the end of the 1960’s to plant and consume “grass” in moderation. In fact, until law number 19.366 was passed, consumption of illegal substances was not legally punishable. But with this law, things changed for the worst. Legal officials not only increased penalties, they defined a criminal policy in which the consumer is punished rather than the drug dealer. Everything was done backwards. Today, according to statistics from the Interior Ministry, approximately two-thirds of those detained for drugs are consumers, while only one-third are drug dealers. This is particularly disturbing because consumers are being treated like narco-traffickers. If the Government’s logic is to protect the well-being of Chilean citizens, as the new law states, then we should crack down on dealers who sell dangerous drugs rather than “soft” drugs that are much less harmful like marijuana.
Now, let’s take time to consider the effects of marijuana. If we go to the official website of CONACE (www.conacedrogas.cl/inicio/todo_fichas.php?id_ficha7), we’ll see that the herb is listed as having carcinogenic effects. Even more, the site indicates that marijuana has higher carcinogenic levels than tobacco, insinuating that marijuana kills, even more than the deadly, legal drug, tobacco. Well, this is not certain. In fact, it’s false. It’s true that smoking marijuana means an intake of potential carcinogenic substances, but there are no cases of death due to marijuana related cancer, or death related to the consumption of marijuana. This doesn’t mean that there are no health effects related to smoking marijuana, or that you can’t become addicted to the herb. But it is clear that smoking marijuana is less dangerous than inhaling cigarettes or imbibing alcohol - two drugs that continue to kill thousands of Chileans. Marijuana has been, and is, an example of a weak drug. And according to all medical and scientific evidence, it causes less damage than tobacco, alcohol, pasta base (derivative of cocaine), crack, heroin etc.
The new law, establishing marijuana as a dangerous drug, seems like it makes fun of the already established drug laws because calling marijuana a hard drug is a complete exaggeration.
Marijuana’s history has been tangled; praised by many as a miracle herb, yet demonized by others as an accursed drug. What is clear is that Chile’s authorities have fumbled once again, but this time they have gone too far.
Marijuana is bad for some people, but it cannot be compared to any hard drug. Listing marijuana as a dangerous drug with a greater penalty will only bring negative social consequences, once again nailing marginalized youths who simply want to relax. It seems like Chile’s authorities prefer our youths to get drunk out of their minds, or smoke tobacco until they die, rather than socialize with marijuana. There is no justice.