Paths for Reform: Proposed Options for Alternative Drug Policies in Guatemala


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Amanda Feilding, Director of the Beckley Foundation, presented these initial drug policy proposals to the President and his key advisors in January 2013. They were received enthusiastically, and President Otto Pérez Molina has since announced his intention to investigate adopting the proposals to legalise the opium poppy crop and regulate drug markets in his country.  The President announced several of the recommendations at Davos and other major international fora, and they have now been integrated into the draft framework declaration composed by the Guatemalans for the OAS general assembly.

We continue to collaborate with the Guatemalan government in producing our next set of reports, and in organising the Tikal Summit, a dialogue of regional leaders and global business figures on drug policy.

The Paths for Reform Report can now be downloaded in full here (para la versión en español, por favor haga clic aquí)

The proposals include:

1. Initiating a campaign of public engagement to raise knowledge and awareness of drug policy issues
Viewpoints on controlled substances are frequently influenced by moral positions that are not founded on scientific evidence. By fostering an inclusive public debate, it would be hoped that diverse views could be channeled towards the common goal of policy improvement.

2. Legislative reform, including of marijuana control
Following a review of international precedents, we recommend the full decriminalisation of drug possession, including the cultivation of limited amounts of cannabis for personal use. The potential implementation of a legal regulated market in cannabis should also be examined, subject to the addressing of tensions with the international drug conventions. A last recommended legislative reform is a clarified and reinforced distinction between minor drug offences and major offences related to transnational organised crime, with a reduction in sentences for non-violent, secondary offenders (e.g. mules). These measures would relieve pressure on the police, judiciary and prison system, reduce the societal impact of criminalising low-level offenders, and improve public health by separating the markets for cannabis and hard drugs.

3. Development of protocols for policy and prosecutors to prioritise violent and serious crime

The success of the government’s reforms depend on their implementation, for which police and prosecutors have a large part of the responsibility. Explicit guidelines to prioirtise violent and serious crime (affording minor drug offences lower judicial prioirty) would help improve public confidence in agencies of law enforcement, and also improve consistency.

4. Legalisation of the currently illicit poppy crop
Starting with a pilot, we propose that the Guatemalan government establish a Poppy Commission to examine conversion of illicit poppy crops to licit cultivation for medicinal use, ideally for domestic purposes. 79% of the world’s population live in countries with low or non-existent access to controlled medicines and have inadequate access to treatment for moderate to severe pain. Guatemala is among these countries, and one way to improve this situation would be to develop domestic legal poppy crop in order to supply this much needed medication.

 5. Discussion regarding international traffic of cocaine 
The major drug problem faced by Guaetmala is the traffic of cocaine. This problem cannot be tackled without international co-operation, as it largely results from Guatemala’s position between the producing countries in South America and the primary consumer market – the USA. Alternative policy options may exist, although some are currently prohibited under the UN Drug Conventions (e.g. the creation of a legal regulated market). Other less controversial options could be regional prioritisation of violence-reduction over interdiction efforts, which may help reduce the escalating violence associated with competition among criminal groups.
To read Paths for Reform in full, please click here (para la versión en español, por favor haga clic aquí)


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