Cannabis in Ecuador and Peru: ¿Cómo se dice «reality check»?

April 11 was a big date on Latin America’s election calendar, with Peru holding the first round of its presidential elections and Ecuador a decisive second round. For cannabis observers, the day began with the prospect of encouraging results in both countries. Instead, the outcome was a double disappointment. In Peru, the two candidates that made it to the second right are openly hostile to cannabis, while Ecuador’s president-elect appears less likely to push for adult-use legalization than his opponent.

Needless to say, presidential elections in any country are about more than cannabis or any other single issue. Voters in Peru and Ecuador surely had a lot of things on their minds on April 11, with cannabis being just one of them–and even then, not for everyone. Moreover, even proponents of adult-use legalization might have solid reasons for supporting candidates opposed to such changes. This is all to say we are not in any way judging the choices of the Ecuadorean and Peruvian electorates. In any case, vox populi, vox dei.

Still, it appears that the door to further legalization is closed for now in both Andean countries, which in itself is disappointing. In Ecuador, conservative Guillermo Lasso won. As we recently explained, President-elect Lassotweeted last year that ‘Cultivation and distribution must be allowed for MEDICINAL USES.’ While his unequivocal support for medical cannabis is encouraging, his all-caps emphasis also suggests he does not support extending legalization initiatives to recreational cannabis.”

It is far from clear that a victory by Lasso’s second round rival, Andrés Arauz, would have been good news for recreational cannabis legalization in Ecuador. However, there were at least reasons for hope. As we described, it was hard to imagine that the youthful, urbane, and left-of-center Arauz would be strongly opposed to the prospect of bringing Ecuador in line with some of the most liberal jurisdictions in the continent.

Meanwhile, the Peruvian elections threw a curveball. Dark horse Pedro Castillo won the first round, and will face Keiko Fujimori in the second round. We already knew that Fujimori does not approve of cannabis. More than that, we expressed concerns about the fact that, contrary to most other candidates, she had not even differentiated between her views on medical and recreational cannabis. Castillo, on the other hand, was a mystery. Given the large number of candidates disputing the first round, we had to effect a triage and looked only into the views of the six candidates that, at the time, were doing the best in the polls. Might the socialist Castillo, who has declared that the Peruvian state must be an “innovator,” be more favorably disposed to cannabis?

Our hopes were soon brutally dashed, and frankly not just because of Castillo’s views on cannabis. For an American, Castillo is a strange political creature. He is to the left of Bernie Sanders on fiscal policy, but his social views are to the right of many Republicans. Consider this exchange with a Peruvian journalist:

Q: Would you legalize abortion or not?

A: Not at all …

Q: Euthanasia?

A: … I don’t support it.

Q: Same-sex marriage?

A: Worse yet …

Q: Legalize marijuana?

A: Of course not.

We are generally upbeat in this blog about the future of cannabis in Latin America, but the election results in Peru and Ecuador serve as a reminder of the hurdles that remain. The left-right divide is certainly present in the region when it comes to economics, but conservative social views straddle both sides of that line.

Going forward, cannabis proponents would do well to continue highlighting the economic potential of a developed cannabis industry. The Castillos of the world will not be moved by arguments based on liberal notions of personal choice, but the prospect of enhanced tax revenues and income boosts in rural areas (a Castillo stronghold) might be of interest.

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