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Is Marijuana Legal in Guatemala?

Guatemala flag with a hand holding a marijuana infront of it

Marijuana, including recreational and medicinal, is highly illegal in Guatemala.

The country’s drug policy classifies marijuana with other hard drugs, meaning it believes cannabis has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.

In 2012, the Guatemalan president pushed to decriminalize drug use at the federal level, but the efforts failed. Marijuana laws in the country remain strict, and those charged with personal use can serve up to two years in prison, with longer sentences for trafficking and cultivation.

Medical Marijuana Laws in Guatemala

Guatemalan law does not allow medical marijuana use within its borders.

In 2016, lawmakers proposed a bill to approve cannabis and its derivatives for adult medical use. However, the congressional commission rejected the proposal, calling it “unfeasible, untimely, and unconstitutional.”

The rejection was based on current anti-drug legislation like Law Against Drug Activity (1992), the constitutional obligation of the state to take action against alcoholism and drug addiction, Guatemala’s status as a signatory to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and concerns raised in Spanish media about the legalization of marijuana.

Most sources maintain that all forms of cannabis are highly illegal, including CBD products with 0% THC.

What to Know About About Medical Cannabis in Guatemala

Medical cannabis is illegal in Guatemala. But like most Latin American countries, weed (or “mota,” as locals refer to it) is prevalent and easy to find. In line with global trends, cannabis is Guatemala’s most widely used illegal drug, particularly among young people.

According to a Merry Jane article, drug dealers in Guatemala frequent parks, disco clubs, and other public locations. In tourist locations and rural areas, such as the world-famous Lago de Atitlán, children as young as eight often support themselves and their families by selling marijuana.

Some say Guatemala’s economy and people might not benefit financially from marijuana legalization, fearing large multinational corporations would set up colossal production sites and siphon profits out of the locals.

Guatemala Drug Trafficking

Marijuana legalization might not help Guatemalans financially. But legislatures believe it would help push out foreign and sometimes violent drug cartels operating along the borders and within the country.

Guatemala connects Honduras and Mexico along common drug routes between Central America and North America. Its long, unpatrolled coastline and sparse jungles make it a popular landing point for boats and planes carrying drugs from South America.

The vast mountains and forests dividing the country make it easier for marijuana growers and smugglers to maneuver away from authorities.

Guatemala Cannabis Penalties

The penalties for cannabis offenses in Guatemala can be severe.

Article 12 of the Law Against Drug Activity outlines the sanctions, including the death penalty, prison terms, fines, professional bans, confiscation or destruction, and deportation from the country in the case of foreigners.

Drug offenses can result in lengthy prison sentences, ranging from a minimum of four months for possession to 20 years for cultivation, production, and trafficking.

According to druglawreform.info, a person caught with marijuana can face the following penalties:

  • Possession for personal use: four months to two years
  • Planting and cultivation: five to 20 years
  • Production and processing: eight to 20 years
  • Trafficking and storage: 12 to 20 years
  • Internal transit: 12 to 20 years

Interestingly, the law does not establish drug-specific limits that distinguish between personal use and trafficking. Often, the judge will decide whether it’s for personal use or trafficking based on the circumstances.

Marijuana Legalization Attempts

The Guatemalan government has repeatedly attempted to reform its strict drug policies but to no avail.

In 2012, Otto Pérez Molina, shortly after taking office as president, launched a proposal for alternatives to Guatemala’s drug laws, including decriminalizing drugs like marijuana.

In the document “For a comprehensive policy against the drug problem in the Americas,” Pérez Molina proposed the following measures:

  • Decriminalizing drug use and transport
  • Compensation from the U.S. for drugs seized
  • Using these funds to invest in local prevention and rehabilitation programs

However, Pérez Molina’s attempts at reform did not succeed because Central American presidents in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Panama did not support decriminalization.

In 2014, President Otto Perez Molina again expressed support for legalizing medical cannabis and recreational marijuana to diminish drug cartel violence. But the plea failed to come to fruition.

Two years later, in 2016, Guatemala’s Legislative Directorate of Congress rejected a medical marijuana proposal stating that cannabis “does not help the drug addict,” “mafias would continue to spread,” “it allows self-destruction to the individual,” and more.

Can You Grow Cannabis in Guatemala?

Marijuana cultivation is illegal in Guatemala. Planting and growing a cannabis plant can result in a prison sentence of five to 20 years.

The Bottom Line

Marijuana is illegal in Guatemala, even for medical treatment. While marijuana is easy to get in Guatemala, the federal law against recreational cannabis is strict, and those caught can face lengthy prison sentences.

The country has taken steps to legalize the use of medical cannabis products, but many government officials still oppose all forms of cannabis legalization.