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An Exclusive Look Inside Chile’s First State-Approved Medical Marijuana Harvest

Buoyed by the Uruguay model, a bill in Chile's Congress would legalize marijuana cultivation for up to six plants for personal use. Here's a look at the first state-sponsored medical marijuana grow operation in Latin America.

by Nicolás Ríos
Apr 20 2015, 5:50pm

Imagen por Patricio Gajardo

"We call this place the 'Holy Land,' for the special meaning it represents for us," said Pablo Meléndez, one of the growers of Chile's first government-sponsored medical marijuana crop.

He stood among a roomful of 395 of just-harvested cannabis sativa plants at a compound in La Florida, a district in Chile's capital of Santiago.

The cannabis, which was planted in October, is destined to become 10 liters of oil to be delivered to 200 cancer patients. The group gathered 198 pounds of indica marijuana buds of Durga Mata II, Wappa, Ice Cream, Nubela, and Pandora strains.

To make the harvest possible, a group called the Daya Foundation secured a rarely issued government permit to grow marijuana for medical purposes. Days before the official presentation of the harvest, VICE News had exclusive access to the compound where it was grown.

The facility is right in the middle of a residential middle-class neighborhood, an unmarked property surrounded by security cameras and an electrified perimeter. We cannot reveal its exact location for security reasons.

"We've had luck, because no one has tried to rob us," Meléndez said, as he led us through the fragrant plants.

Related: Chile Is Growing Its First Medical Marijuana Plot, But Users Are Still Getting Arrested.

Pablo Meléndez stands among buds in Chile's first medical marijuana harvest. (Photo courtesy of Patricio Gajardo)

Long considered one of Latin America's most conservative countries, Chile is gradually opening a discussion on marijuana legalization.

According to a recent poll by the National Youth Government Agency (INJUV), 63 percent of Chileans between the ages of 15 and 29 approve of cannabis legalization. In another poll, 86 percent of Chileans at large support the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

A bill proposed in Congress would allow citizens to farm up to six marijuana plants, as well as permit individual possession of up to 10 grams of cannabis for medical or recreational use. In current Chilean law, marijuana cultivation can be punished with up to $32,000 in fines and up to twenty years in jail.

The moves in Chile are buoyed in part by Uruguay's landmark marijuana legalization law, which made marijuana completely legal. Yet Uruguay's government has not implemented medical marijuana production, so the harvest this month in Santiago is the first successful state-sponsored marijuana grow operation in Latin America.

Related: The Story Behind Every Pothead's Favorite Number: 420.

The plants are grown in natural light. (Photo courtesy of Patricio Gajardo)

Almost half of the 4,800-square-foot plot in La Florida is used to grow the plants in natural light. A prefabricated house is used as an office, and was then converted into a drying facility for the harvest. A large ventilator provides the airflow required in the process.

And although there is almost no evidence of the existence of this crop for those who don't know its location, the smell of marijuana could be discerned within 100 meters — maybe in part because of the drying phase that was taking place during our visit.

"Chilean law demands that every new medicine has to undergo a six-month trial period before it is distributed, so we are expecting to deliver the oil in early 2016," Ana María Gazmuri, president of the Daya Foundation, which partially funded the La Florida crops, told VICE News.

The project's organizers are looking to expand the program to at least 20 other locations in Chile if possible.

"We want to raise our coverage to 4,000 patients, and be able to treat more diseases, like the refractory epilepsy, not just cancer," Gazmuri said.

(Photo courtesy of Patricio Gajardo)

Related: A US Government Agency Quietly Acknowledged Marijuana May Help Fight Brain Tumors.

Follow Nicolás Ríos on Twitter @nicorios.

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