Guatemala’s interior minister told Reuters that the Central American state has begun to review the issue of taxing the sale of opium poppies as a way to help fund drug prevention and other social programs. In addition to legalizing production of both poppies and marijuana, Guatemala may de-penalize small-scale drug offenses, including minimal possession and low-level sales. Since assuming office in 2012, President Otto Perez has suggested a new plan of drug legalization as a way to inhibit organized crime and limit public finance expenditures.

The country appears to be following a more general Latin American trend of countering prohibition efforts, a hallmark of the U.S.-led war on drugs. In Uruguay, for instance, lawmakers approved a legalized marijuana market in December, while Colombia's president has begun to request a pre-debate of alternatives to current drug regulations prior to the United Nation’s sponsored drug policy summit in 2016. (Two years ago, state heads of Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico — all three countries grow opium poppies — called on the UN to host an international conference on drug policy reform.)

Medicinal (and Other) Uses

Contemporary derivatives of opium poppies include morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and, of course, heroin. Heroin is considered a Schedule I controlled substance (no currently accepted medical use, a lack of accepted safety for use, and a high potential for abuse). Opium and most of its derivatives are listed as Schedule II. That said, drug overdose, at least in New York City, generally involves either heroin or prescription painkillers; after a four-year fall, a steep rise in overdoses occurred in 2012, with 52 percent of all such deaths caused by heroin. The plant thrives in dry, warm climates, and ancient Greek and Roman physicians used opium for pain relief, for aiding sleep, and for evacuating the bowels. Worldwide, opium is grown on government-regulated opium farms in lndia, Turkey, and Tasmania (Australia). Illegal growing areas include Burma (Myanmar), Laos, and Thailand, and adjacent areas of southern China and northwestern Vietnam. Opium poppies are also cultivated by farmers in Lebanon, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. In Latin America, the plant is grown in Mexico, Colombia, and Guatemala.

During the 1990s, Latin America evolved as the primary supplier of heroin to the U.S., according to Office of National Drug Control Policy. In 2001, poppy cultivation in Colombia reached a peak, though since then it has been decreasing. The potential production of heroin dropped from 11.4 metric tons of pure heroin to 2.1 metric tons, between the years of 2001 and 2009. In contrast, opium poppy cultivation in Mexico remains high, and Mexico continues as the primary supplier of heroin to the U.S.; estimates of potential heroin production currently total about 26 metric tons. Most of Guatemala's poppy production has been funded by Mexican drug gangs, according to Reuters, and occurs in three municipalities close to the Mexican border.