Hashish and Ballots, Half 2: Peru

Five * Latin American nations will hold presidential elections in 2021, with some major parliamentary elections also taking place. Some of these competitions have an impact on cannabis policy, and we’ll examine what each vote is about. In January we previewed the Ecuadorian presidential competition, the second round of which will take place this Sunday, April 11th. On the same day, the first round of elections in Peru will take place. Could further legalization be on the table after the elections as medical cannabis is already legal in the country?

By early February, George Forsyth, a former soccer player, was the clear leader in the polls. Forsyth advocates legalizing medical cannabis, but does not support legalization for adults. However, as Election Day approaches, Forsyth’s popularity has skyrocketed. According to a recent poll, it fell to sixth place. The same poll shows that Keiko Fujimori and Hernando de Soto take first place with 9.8% of the vote each.

If, according to Peruvian law, no candidate exceeds the 50% threshold in the first round, the winner and the runner-up must play a second round. Given the large number of candidates and the broken votes, it is almost certain that a second round will be required this year.

Fujimori, who heads a party called Fuerza Popular, is the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, who is currently imprisoned for human rights abuses committed during his mandate. (Keiko is on bail herself for a transplant examination and must obtain a judge’s approval before any campaign trip outside the Peruvian capital, Lima.) As an avowed defender of her father’s political legacy, it is not surprising that Fujimori struggled against cannabis and declared that its use cannot be approved. Still, there is no indication that, as President, she would attempt to roll back the legalization of medical cannabis. In any case, there has been support for legal medical cannabis within Fuerza Popular in the past.

Some of that support actually came from Fujimori’s brother Kenji, who tabled a bill to legalize medical cannabis while serving in the Peruvian Congress. However, Keiko is unlikely to seek advice from her brother about cannabis or anything else, since the siblings are bitter political rivals.

For his part, De Soto, a renowned economist (and a former ally of Fujimori), has made it clear that despite his classic liberal stance on economic issues, he is a social advance. When asked about a number of issues, including medical cannabis, de Soto said he was “very tolerant” and that everyone should “choose what they want”. We couldn’t find any statements from de Soto about the prospect of legalizing adult cannabis, and his Avanza País party’s platform is silent on the matter. However, one would expect him to be at least open to the idea, and not just because of his views on individual freedom.

De Soto is known for his work on the informal economy. According to him, the assets of those participating in the informal economy languish “as dead capital in the shadow of the law”. Full legalization of the cannabis sector would be compatible with de Soto’s worldview. Additionally, the urban economist is almost certainly paying attention to what is happening around the world when it comes to cannabis, particularly the legalization surge in the United States.

While recreational cannabis legalization is conceivable under a de Soto government, it would certainly not be the case if Rafael López Aliaga reached the presidential palace. While promoting medical cannabis, he has derided calls for recreational cannabis legalization as “frivolous”. He has also invoked the “gateway drug”, saying he stopped using cannabis after one of his friends “became addicted and switched to cocaine”. This may not be a shocking stance for a candidate who “represses sexual desire by thinking of the Virgin Mary and beating himself with a cilice, a burlap garment with dots stuck in the body, an early Christian practice” . While López Aliaga’s campaign seems to have lost steam in recent weeks, he’s within reach of the top two spots.

Another candidate with a good shot in the second round is Yohny Lescano, a lawyer and former congressman. In fact, some recent polls show that Lescano is at the top. Lescano is against recreational cannabis, but he’s not against medicinal cannabis.

Finally, there is Verónika Mendoza, who is considered to be the Peruvian left’s best chance of making it to the second round. Mendoza has supported the legalization of recreational cannabis in the past but appears to have voted back their stance. In January, she expressed her support for medical cannabis and specifically omitted adult cannabis. This may reflect a change of heart, but it could also be part of an effort to appeal to socially conservative voters who are otherwise on board their economic agenda.

A win by de Soto or Mendoza would open up some interesting opportunities, while other outcomes would likely not initiate significant changes to the Peruvian cannabis framework. However, medical cannabis advocates can breathe easy as none of the leading candidates seem ready to turn back the clock on this matter.

For now, let’s see what April 11th brings.

* Technically, Nicaragua will have an election in November, but as of today, the ruling party may disqualify opposition candidates.

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