South America Has Its First Legal, Medical Marijuana Patient


On June 26, Chile’s Institute for Public Health granted Cecilia Heydar special permission to take Sativex, a cannabis derived painkiller that will greatly improve her quality of life as she battles a tragic double illness.

The 48-year-old housewife was diagnosed with systemic lupus in 2009 and then breast cancer in 2011. As the pain became unmanageable, her doctor recommended she use cannabis.

Mrs. Heydar has been eating and smoking cannabis (rogue) for over a year now, awaiting the arrival of a cannabis based pain killer called Sativex that will replace her more traditional modes of ingestion.

Mrs. Heydar’s treatment is decidedly illegal under Chilean law, but the government has not made a practice of punishing citizens for possession of cannabis.

What has been a significant improvement in Mrs. Heydar’s quality of life also marks the seed of medical marijuana in South America. To date, not a single nation in the region (Uruguay’s program won’t start till 2015) has laws that allow for or regulate the use of medical marijuana.

This watershed decision places the Chilean government at the forefront of a continent wide push to end the highly destructive ‘war on drugs’, first declared by President Richard Nixon in 1971.

Ana Maria Gazmuri, president of the Daya Foundation, a group that lobbies for the use of alternative medicine in Chile, is happy to see the Chilean government bend for Mrs. Heydar.

“It’s a very significant step. This is the first time that the Chilean state formally recognizes the use of medical marijuana.”

Operating in the grey zones of Chilean law, Mrs. Gazmuri’s foundation uses marijuana to treat twenty children with epilepsy or similar conditions. She says its the only way to stop their seizures.

Mrs. Heydar’s legislative progress has prompted a political party known as Amplitud to propose a bill that will decriminalize growing small amounts of marijuana at home.  Amplitud’s is one of many bills up for debate in Chile that could authorize the public health care system to routinely use cannabis derived pharmaceuticals to treat patients. Observers expect at least one of these bills to pass in the near future.

But while politicians debate medical marijuana’s legality, Mrs. Heydar will keep waiting for her treatment. Sativex costs $3,000 a month, a price she cannot afford to pay, so the Chilean government is now fast-tracking a second bill that would allow the government to pay for her treatment.

“I am very happy and grateful to the parliamentarians.” Says Mrs. Heydar. “But I don’t see why my case had to become so emblematic for this to change. Too many people have suffered because of this taboo.”


About Author

Los Angeles born, Chicago bred and living in New York City, marijuana has been near and dear to Jay's heart for as long as he can remember. In the past Jay has worked with Heeb Magazine, The Second City Chicago and as a line cook in one of Martha's Vineyard's finest farm-to-table restaurants.

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