Guatemalan president eyes drug legalization proposal in late 2014

Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina, speaks during the opening of the inauguration of the World Economic Forum on Latin America, in Panama City April 2, 2014. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemala could present a plan to legalize production of marijuana and opium poppies towards the end of 2014 as it seeks ways to curb the power of organized crime, President Otto Perez said on Wednesday. Perez, a conservative retired general who broke ranks with the United States by proposing drug legalization shortly after he took office at the start of 2012, has yet to put forward a concrete plan on how it could be done. Instead, a government commission has been studying the proposal, and Perez told Reuters in an interview that he expected the recommendations to be published around October and that measures could be presented at the end of the year. Those measures could include an initiative for Congress to legalize drugs, in particular marijuana, he said. "The other thing we're exploring ... is the legalization of the poppy plantations on the border with Mexico, so they're controlled and sold for medicinal ends," Perez said. "These two things could be steps taken on a legal basis." Opium poppies are used to make opium, heroin and pharmaceutical drugs such as morphine and codeine. Guatemala, a major coffee producer which is one of the most violent countries in the Americas, has suffered from incursions by violent Mexican drug cartels in recent years. The drug gangs have been under sustained pressure at home since the Mexican government launched a military-led offensive on organized crime at the end of 2006. More than 85,000 people have since died in Mexico in cartel-related violence. Mexico, which made possession of tiny amounts of narcotics legal in 2009, has so far been hesitant to go further on liberalizing drug laws, though pressure is growing. The Party of the Democratic Revolution, a leftist group that runs the local government of Mexico City, is pushing a number of initiatives to decriminalize marijuana. (Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Eric Walsh)