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Guatemala Considers Taxing Poppies, Marijuana: Legalizing Their Sale Could Curb Drug War

First Posted: May 10, 2014 06:50 PM EDT
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As the drug war continues to ravage Central America, with gangs and police forces vying for control of neighborhoods, the Guatemalan government has begun considering whether to legalize the sale of poppy flowers, used in the production of heroin.

The Guatemalan government announced the possibility of taxing the farming of poppy flowers as well as marijuana in an attempt to curb the drug cartels' violence. The money raised from the plants would be used to pay for rehab programs and other social programs.

"That is one idea that has been raised," said Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, a retired lieutenant colonel who served with Guatemala's special forces, according to Reuters.

"That option would mean raising taxes, fundamental resources for prevention, resources that could be used by the Guatemalan state for social development."

Lopez Bonilla told Reuters that poppy cultivation was widespread in the three regions bordering Mexico. The former commander said that the illegal cultivation was so widespread that, if they followed the law, everyone in those provinces would have to be arrested.

This move is part of a larger shift in drug war policy that aims to turn away from a military strategy. Guatemala is considering legalizing the production of the two plants but also plans to de-penalize low level drug offenses and offer amnesty to people convicted of small-scale possession and sale of drugs.

"We're not talking about the legalization of the drugs trade, of production or the use of drugs," Lopez Bonilla said. "We are talking about changes to a system that over the last 40 years has proven to be inefficient."

In 2012, President Otto Perez proposed legalizing some drugs after being elected to the office. According to Medical Daily, opium poppies can be used to make morphine, codeine, oxycodone and heroin. They report that in the 1990s Latin America became the chief exporter of heroin to the United States.

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