Chile’s presidential elections are heading to a second round. We’re paying attention for many reasons, not least the fact that the results will have significant implications for cannabis policy, not just in Chile, but in all of Latin America.
The winner of the first round was José Antonio Kast, who eked out a victory over second-placed Gabriel Boric. Kast and Boric could hardly offer more divergent policy directions. The former is a conservative (some say ultra-conservative or far-right) defender of Chile’s neoliberal model, who thinks Chile’s established right-wing parties are adopting the “slogans of the new left.”
For his part, Boric is a former student leader, whose coalition includes the Communist Party of Chile. Boric has pledged to kill off Chile’s neoliberal system, raising taxes, engaging in industrial policy, and doing away with Chile’s private pensions system, a hallmark of its current model.
When it to cannabis, however, there is not that much daylight between the two candidates’ positions.
Boric’s platform includes a call to consider legal changes to legalize adult-use cannabis. This stance is not that surprising for a 35-year-old former student leader with a tattoo of a trout on his forearm (a homage to the Magallanes region from which he hails and which he represents in Chile’s legislature). However, recent election cycles in Latin America make it clear that the left is not always on the side of legalization.
Kast, meanwhile, supports the medical use of cannabis, though not its recreational use. Frankly, this is a much more moderate stance than we’d expect from someone demonized as “a member of the extreme far right.” Contrast his views to those of Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, to whom Kast is often compared. The Brazilian rabidly opposes medical cannabis, opining that “the left always takes advantage of an opportunity to get drugs” and lamenting that it’s “weed yes, chloroquine no.”
Elaborating on his opposition to adult-use cannabis, Kast posited that “given the alcoholism that exists today in Chile at the youth level and the sale of tobacco to minors, it will not be possible, based on those precedents, to regulate the consumption of marijuana to minors.” It is a fair objection and one based on practical considerations, far removed from the reefer madness (or shall we say maconha madness) exhibited by other regional leaders (and not just on the right).
The prospect of a regulatory framework for medical cannabis in Chile is very exciting. Chile is not just a relatively wealthy market of 20 million people, but one of Latin America’s undisputed economic leaders. Of course, for these reasons, the prospect of Chile opening up to medical and adult-use cannabis is even more exciting. In any case, expect others in the region to pay attention to what happens in Chile with cannabis.
For now, we’ll be paying attention to what happens in Chile on December 16. Expect more from us on developments in the Country of Poets.