SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chileans are increasingly growing their own cannabis for medical purposes as the conservative South American nation begins loosening legal prohibitions on the formerly illegal plant.
In 2015, Chile legalized the use of medical marijuana, following a wave of other Latin American nations that are slowly making the cultivation, distribution, and consumption of cannabis easier.
Earlier in May, pharmacies in the capital city of Santiago began selling cannabis-based medicines, the first time such treatments have been offered by drugstores in Latin America.
Boosters of the plant are making sure Chileans with chronic pain have the know-how to grow marijuana, even as doing so occupies a legal gray area.
In Santiago on Friday, Chile's pro-cannabis Daya Foundation hosted a workshop teaching those with medical conditions how to grow the plant on their own.
Last year, the foundation inaugurated the largest medical marijuana farm in Latin America under the supervision of Chile's Agriculture and Livestock Service.
"Almost a century of prohibition filled us with misinformation and, worse, stopped millions of people who could have received relief from using this plant," said Ana Maria Gazmuri, a 1980s soap opera star and advocate of holistic medicine, who heads the foundation.
"So today this has changed in Chile and we can say, additionally, that we are leaders in Latin America in the development of medical cannabis."
Among those who attended the workshop on Friday was Carlos Antonio Ortiz Diaz, a 49-year-old miner with glaucoma.
"No medicines have given me results up to now. I have to change them every month, and I don't see any improvement," he said.
"With cannabis, I'm using it two times a week on average, and the pain has diminished a bit."
Chile's Congress is currently debating a bill that would explicitly allow people to grow their own plants, and Argentina and Colombia are following similar paths.
Uruguay became a global pioneer when it legalized the cultivation, distribution, and consumption of marijuana in late 2013. Pharmacies in that country will begin legal sales of recreational cannabis from July.
Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Phil Berlowitz