SANTIAGO, Chile - Chile's congressional health committee approved a bill Monday that would legalize the cultivation of marijuana for private recreational or medicinal use, sending it to the floor for a full debate.
The bill would take marijuana off the list of hard drugs in the socially conservative country and make it a soft drug like alcohol.
It would allow people over the age of 18 to grow up to six cannabis plants for their own use, or for use by minors if they are patients using the substance as part of a prescribed treatment regimen.
But it would maintain the country's ban on using marijuana in public and limit the amount a person can possess to 10 grams.
"The committee's aim is not to allow the indiscriminate use of marijuana," said committee chairman Luis Castro, a member of President Michelle Bachelet's Socialist party.
"This is only about allowing (marijuana use) in medical situations when prescribed by a doctor and when grown at home."
The bill now moves to the full Chamber of Deputies before passing to the Senate, a legislative process that could take years.
Currently, Chileans are allowed to consume marijuana in private, but it is illegal to sell or grow the drug.
The bill comes as Chile prepares its first legal cannabis harvest on Tuesday under a special permit granted for a medical marijuana project in La Florida, an affluent district in the capital Santiago.
Various Latin American countries are considering an overhaul of their drug laws.
Uruguay kicked off the revamp in 2013 with a world-first law that fully legalized and regulated marijuana, allowing users to grow the plant or buy it at pharmacies -- though it has not been fully implemented yet.