Move to make limited drug possession illegal takes root

Peru Interior Minister Octavio Salazar Miranda announced Thursday that he is drafting a bill which aims to nullify the Peruvian Penal Code’s provision barring the prosecution of simple drug use or possession.

By allowing Peruvians to posses or use a minimal quantity of drugs, we implicitly encourage the micro-commercialization of drugs in our society, argued Salazar.

“This is why simple possession should be made illegal,” he added. “Drug users and vendors are responsible for this problem. There are even people unscrupulous enough to give poor mothers drugs so that they can sell them on the streets.”

According to Article 299 of Peru’s Penal Code, the sale of marijuana and the possession of more than eight grams is illegal, but the “personal and immediate” consumption of eight grams or less does not constitute a criminal offense. The same logic applies to consumption not exceeding five grams of coca paste, two grams of cocaine and one gram of opium.

In Peru, where the ban on “weed” does not distinguish between recreational and medical use, Salazar’s bill fuels the controversy over marijuana, which widely continues to be perceived as a precursor to “hard drugs.”

Last March, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski – former finance minister and cabinet chief under President Toledo – argued that the sale and consumption of marijuana should be legalized.

“The fight against marijuana is taking up enormous amounts our local police’s efforts,” Kuczynski said in comments to Radio Radio Programas, or RPP. “Marijuana should simply be legalized, to allow policemen to focus on the truly harmful drugs.”

Kuczynski’s comments echoed those of Surquillo Mayor Gustavo Sierra, who also argued that marijuana should be legalized and suggested that Peru’s Health Ministry should sell small amounts of the drug in authorized drugstores and under official supervision so that consumers could be tracked, monitored and helped.

According to the private non-profit organization Information and Education Center for the Prevention of Drug Abuse, or CEDRO, marijuana is the most extensively used illegal drug in Peru. In 2005, the percentage of people who had tried marijuana at least once in their lifetime rose to 11.9 percent from 10.3 percent in 2003.

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