April 11th was a big date in Latin America’s electoral calendar. Peru held the first round of its presidential elections and Ecuador a crucial second round. For cannabis watchers, the day began with the prospect of encouraging results in both countries. Instead, the result was a double disappointment. In Peru, the two candidates who made it to the right are openly against cannabis, while Ecuador’s elected president is less likely to push for adult legalization than his opponent.
Needless to say, every country’s presidential election is about more than cannabis or any other single issue. Voters in Peru and Ecuador certainly had many things on their minds on April 11th, with cannabis being just one of them – and even then, not for everyone. Furthermore, even proponents of legalizing adult use might have good reasons to support candidates who oppose such changes. This is all to say that we do not judge in any way the decisions of the Ecuadorian and Peruvian voters. In any case, Vox Populi, Vox Dei.
Still, the door to further legalization in both Andean countries seems to be closed for the time being, which in itself is disappointing. In Ecuador, the conservative Guillermo Lasso won. As we recently stated, President-elect Lasso tweeted last year that ‘Cultivation and distribution for MEDICAL USES must be allowed’. While his clear support for medical cannabis is encouraging, his all-caps focus also suggests that he does not support the expansion of legalization initiatives to include recreational cannabis. “
It is far from clear that a win 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 have described, it was hard to imagine that youthful, urban, left-of-center Arauz would strongly disagree with the prospect of aligning Ecuador with some of the continent’s most liberal jurisdictions.
Meanwhile, the Peruvian elections threw a curveball. The dark horse Pedro Castillo won the first round and meets Keiko Fujimori in the second round. We already knew that Fujimori did not approve of cannabis. In addition, we raised concerns that, unlike most of the other candidates, she did not even distinguish between her views on medicinal cannabis and recreational cannabis. Castillo, on the other hand, was a mystery. Given the large number of candidates contesting the first round, we had to do a triage and examine only the views of the six candidates who scored the best on the polls at the time. Could the socialist Castillo, who has declared that the Peruvian state should be an “innovator”, be more favorable towards cannabis?
Our hopes were soon brutally dashed, and frankly, not just because of Castillo’s views on cannabis. To an American, Castillo is a strange political creature. He is on the left of Bernie Sanders on fiscal policy, but his social views are on the right of many Republicans. Consider this exchange with a Peruvian journalist:
Q: Would you legalize abortion or not?
A: Not at all …
A: … I do not support it.
Q: Same-sex marriage?
A: Worse still …
Q: legalize marijuana?
A: Of course not.
We are generally optimistic about the future of cannabis in Latin America on this blog, but the election results in Peru and Ecuador are a reminder of the remaining hurdles. The left-right divide certainly exists in the region economically, but conservative social views span both sides of that line.
In the future, cannabis advocates would do well to further highlight 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 improved tax revenues and increased incomes in rural areas (a stronghold of Castillo) might be of interest.