Will Guatemala Really Explore Marijuana Legalization in 2015?
Guatemalan soldiers eradicate cannabis plants in Peten, Guatemala
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina in a recent interview mooted the idea of his country legalizing marijuana next year. Can we really expect bold changes in Guatemalan drug policy in the near future?
This is, of course, not the first time Perez has come out in favor of reform, having been one of the leading heads of state to push for a debate on the existing drug policy paradigm since assuming office in 2012. Initially, Perez promoted decriminalization at a regional level, though soon evolved his standpoint by stating just a few months after becoming president: "Narcotics should be legally available - in a highly regulated market," following with the particularly apt questions, "isn't it true that we have been fighting the war on drugs ... ? Then, how on earth is drug consumption higher and production greater and why is trafficking so widespread?"
Speaking last year before the United Nations, Perez declared Colorado and Washington state to be visionaries as a result of their decisions to implement legalization frameworks, and has frequently praised his Uruguayan counterpart, Jose Mujica, for forging ahead with cannabis regulation. But, what has this all translated into domestically for Guatemala?
In February this year the National Commission for Drug Policy Reform was launched and delivered its preliminary report in September on the current situation in Guatemala -- a country where drug production, trafficking and use are all criminalized, and where possession for personal use can result in a minimum four month prison sentence. The Commission is due to deliver a final report before the year's end that will include recommendations on how to move forward with reform in Guatemala, though its initial summary offers some hope that reform will be pursued in earnest as it clearly outlined: "We must jointly define a policy for, and from Guatemala. The international community must respect our autonomy to test our own flexible interpretation of the [UN drugs] conventions."
Quite what the recommendations will involve obviously remains to be seen. As well as speaking about the legalization of marijuana, Perez's government has stated they may explore regulating the cultivation and production of opium for the medicinal market, something which could be incorporated into the final report.
While Perez has taken the bull by the horns on the international stage, he has been far more cautious back home. Even if the Commission proposes regulating marijuana in Guatemala, it would seem unlikely action would be taken on this in the near future due to the likely desire to learn more from Uruguay's experience first. A key first step, though, would be drafting and pushing through a bill that decriminalizes drug use and possession in the country. It's all very well Perez making grand declarations on the need for international reform and debate, but until he takes real action to address his country's own punitive drug laws, he leaves himself vulnerable to accusations of promoting an agenda without concrete action to address the problems he decries.