Chilean authorities have started harvesting the largest legal marijuana field in Latin America, local the media reported Tuesday.
Around 6,000 marijuana plants growing near the city of Colbun, 192 miles (309 kilometers) south of capital Santiago, will be transformed into different phytopharmaceuticals or painkillers for 4,000 patients in Chile suffering from cancer, refractory epilepsy and chronic pain such as arthritis or multiple sclerosis.
"It is an important day. We want it to be the first harvest of many more to come in Latin American countries," Ana Maria Gazmuri, president of the Daya Foundation, the nonprofit organization overseeing the project, told EFE on Monday.
The Daya Foundation has temporarily hired around 60 locals to harvest the crops. The workers have to wear protective suits and rubber gloves when working in the fields.
The site is being protected by 24-hour security, with an electric fence, a guard dog and numerous video cameras. There is also a direct phone connection to the two largest police offices in the area.
The project, funded by 20 municipalities across the country, will form the basis of three large clinical studies, to be developed by the Chilean National Cancer Institute and two hospitals, and provide the medicine free of charge to those in need.
In late 2015, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet signed a decree which allows the Institute of Public Health to manufacture cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Marijuana is currently on the South American nation’s list of hard drugs. Anyone found in possession of the drug can face five to 10 years in prison. However, Chilean lawmakers are said to be working a bill that will downgrade cannabis to a less severe category of illegal drug.
In 2013, Uruguay moved to fully legalize marijuana, a pioneering step that has opened the debate over the legal status of the drug across the Americas.