Guatemalan president still mulling whether to legalize marijuana

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina says he's awaiting the results of a study that is based in part on Colorado and Washington state's marijuana laws before deciding whether his country will follow suit. (Jeff Simon, Ed O'Keefe, Marlon Correa and Randy Smith/The Washington Post)

Will Guatemala ever legalize marijuana? Maybe.

The country's president, Otto Perez Molina, didn't rule out the possibility of legalizing the drug during an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday.

Molina and the leaders of El Salvador and Honduras are in town for meetings Friday with President Obama and Vice President Biden to discuss the historic influx of immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Ahead of their White House stop, the leaders huddled Thursday with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

A former military general, Molina caused a stir last year when he used his annual address at the United Nations General Assembly to credit the states of Colorado and Washington for their "visionary decision" to legalize marijuana.

Molina first raised the specter of legalization in 2012, just a few months after taking office. He admitted that the possibility of legalizing at least some drugs might help stem the flow and diminish the clout of violent drug gangs who rule over wide swaths of Central America. His change in tactics and rhetoric was notable since Molina had campaigned in 2011 on a law-and-order platform known as "Mano Dura," or "iron fist."

During his chat with The Post, Molina said that the global media might have initially misinterpreted his comments on drug legalization as a suggestion that all drugs should be legalized. "But little by little, there have been more incidents that suggest that the issue should be looked at differently, based out of the level of addiction and the damage they can cause," he said.

"That’s why you can separate marijuana from cocaine, or from heroin. It’s clear how marijuana doesn’t cause the same level of addiction, or damage to health, and these are steps we’re taking in the right path," he added.

Molina will be hosting an international conference on drug policy in September in Guatemala. He's hoping for a robust discussion about reviewing global policy and protocol on illegal drugs.

And how does he think the first few months of marijuana legalization has gone in Colorado and Washington? He wouldn't say. Will Guatemala ever legalize marijuana?

"Right now we have a commission that’s following what’s been happening in Uruguay, Portugal, Holland, Colorado, and the state of Washington," he said, calling out other jurisdictions with lenient pot laws. "I expect to receive the studies, analysis and recommendations at the end of the year and from there we will make the decisions that would best fit our country."

Guatemalan presidents serve only one term, and Molina's time is up in early 2016. So there's still time.

Marlon Correa and PostTV's Jeff Simon and Randolph Smith contributed to this report.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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