Chile welcomed Latin America’s largest medicinal marijuana farm Tuesday, marking another step in the region’s growing acceptance of therapeutic uses for the formerly illegal plant.
The plantation in the small town of Colbun, about 170 miles south of Santiago, will help treat some 4,000 patients from across Chile, according to organizers.
This comes as Chile’s Congress debates the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana for personal use and cultivation.
Opinions about the use of marijuana have been shifting in traditionally conservative Chile, according to Ana Maria Gazmuri, who heads the foundation.
“This farm will further permit people to see for themselves the reality of the plant, and what its uses are,” said Gazmuri to Reuters. Gazmuri is a 1980s TV soap opera star and advocate of “holistic” medicine.
Project organizers hope to harvest 1.65 tons of marijuana between March and May, under the supervision of the government’s agricultural service.
Organizers told La Tercera newspaper they will be working with a variety of laboratories and universities to develop marijuana-based therapies that can help patients with chronic pain, complications from cancer and epilepsy, among other conditions.
In 2013, Uruguay moved to fully legalize marijuana, a pioneering step that has been watched closely across the globe.
A Mexican court ruling in November opened the door to limited amounts of legal cannabis cultivation. Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos in December signed a decree that legalized medical marijuana, which he said does not weaken the government’s fight against illicit crops and drug trafficking.