Hashish and Ballots, Half 1: Ecuador

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Cannabis and Ballots, Part 1: Ecuador

Five Latin American nations will hold presidential elections in 2021, and two more will hold parliamentary elections. Most of these competitions will have an impact on cannabis policy, and we will examine what every vote is about, starting with Ecuador voting for a new president and legislature next Sunday, February 7th, for a new president and legislature to choose.

Last October, the Ecuadorian Department of Agriculture enacted Hemp Regulations, which created a legal framework for cannabis with a THC content of less than 1.0%. The possession or use of cannabis will be decriminalized, but only for quantities that do not exceed ten grams. Could a new resident of the Carondelet Palace push for further legalization and open the door to legal recreational cannabis?

The current front runner is Andrés Arauz, an economist and alum from the University of Michigan. Arauz’s runner-up Carlos Rabascall said his administration will not change the schedule that set that maximum amount. However, it is important to remember that the schedule includes drugs like ecstasy and heroin, which the government could distinguish cannabis from if needed.

Arauz has indicated that former President Rafael Correa (also a Big Ten graduate who has a PhD from the University of Illinois) will be one of these primary advisors. Under Correa’s watch, Ecuador decriminalized cannabis and other controlled substances (subject to the schedule described above). However, he was lukewarm on the legalization issue, stating in 2014 that his government had “a thousand priorities” that were more pressing. At the same time, he warned: “The current strategy against drugs and drug trafficking has completely failed, so we cannot rule out any possibility, including the legalization of some drugs.”

In addition to his rejection of the law-and-order approach, secular Correa (who currently resides in his wife’s Belgian homeland) must certainly be aware of the profound change that has taken place in terms of cannabis in the years since he left the office . As for Arauz, it’s hard to imagine that a 36-year-old who studied in Ann Arbor (home of the Hash Bash) and Mexico City (arguably the most liberal city in Latin America) could have a deep-seated hostility towards cannabis. It seems clear that legalizing cannabis would not be a priority for an Arauz presidency, but if a debate opens, his response and that of his trusted advisor could be favorable.

Arauz’s main competitor, Guillermo Lasso, tweeted last year that “Cultivation and distribution must be allowed for MEDICAL USES”. 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.

Under the Ecuadorian electoral system, a second round of voting is required if no candidate wins a direct majority in the first round (or 40% of the vote by more than 10 points over the nearest rival). Most polls suggest that Arauz will face Lasso in a runoff election, but Yaku Pérez, a member of the indigenous Cañari group, remains competitive for second place. Pérez has put environmental concerns at the center of the platform and opposed raw material activities, suggesting that he may be suitable for the further development of an environmentally friendly cannabis industry. However, as far as we can tell, Pérez has made no public statements about cannabis.

Overall, regardless of the election results, the future of the hemp industry in Ecuador appears to be secure. Additionally, with luck, the country could see further legalization. We’ll watch what happens on February 7th and beyond.

Look forward to the election preview in:

  • Chile
  • Peru
  • Mexico
  • Argentina
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua*

* Technically, Nicaragua will be elected in November, but as of today, the ruling party can disqualify opposition candidates.