The Battle for Cannabis Legalization Is On in Honduras

Honduras is considering cannabis legalization to solve its employment problem—but not without controversy.

According to Salvador Nasralla, known locally as El señor de la television, legalizing cannabis would create at least 17,000 jobs in Honduras and go a long way in addressing the chronically high level of unemployment in the country.

Honduras is bordered by Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. The country’s history has been frequently defined by the bloody and terrible conquests on its soil that have included the eradication of the local Maya by the first invaders (the Spanish). Honduras also became one of the locations of the United and Standard Fruit companies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, giving rise to the writer O. Henry’s infamous description of the country as a “banana republic.” American troops have invaded the country multiple times including during the 1980’s during the war between El Salvador and Nicaragua.

For this reason, it is even more ironic that cannabis reform, proposed as a solution to help the mostly agricultural population of the country, might be opposed by anyone in the administration of the current president (the first woman to hold the office), the left-leaning Xiomara Castro, or her husband, Manuel Zelaya. Castro was sworn in on January 27, 2022, filling a job that Zelaya held between 2006 and 2009.

However, that is the battle that is currently raging over cannabis reform.

Nasralla, proponent of the cannabis reform proposal now in front of the government, is the first vice president of the country, appointed by Castro. He is also the former CEO of Pepsi Honduras. He has been a fierce critic of sitting governments here since the 1980s, citing corruption as one of the main reasons Honduras is in such dire economic circumstances today.

His cannabis proposal, however, has attracted the ire of Castro’s husband, Zelaya, who recently said, “We do not support the idea of starting to plant drugs as has been proposed. The president of Honduras (his wife) has made the firm decision to combat drug trafficking and will combat its consumption,” he told local media. “If there is drug trafficking, there are drug traffickers and if there are drugs, then there are consumers, so that must be eradicated from the country.” 

Since Zelaya is also a presidential advisor, it would seem that the current cannabis reform proposal by the country’s new Veep may cause a bit of marital strife.

A “Cannabis Republic”?

What makes this contretemps so interesting is not only the politics but the motivation of all involved. 

This is a fight essentially over not only living standards but a country’s legacy. There are currently 350,000 Hondurans out of work, and 2.4 million are underemployed. That is a significant percent of the population in a country with almost 10 million people. Merely employing them in the cannabis industry is not necessarily the answer to the country’s problems.

Here is the first reason why. Many developing countries are moving rapidly into the cannabis industry with similar hopes. See the many African nations who have announced they are on the same trajectory, if not Latin American countries. Honduras would be competing with such efforts and is already behind.

Beyond this, however, there are other considerations. Exporting bananas and other tropical fruit in the past did nothing except support the profits of large, non-Honduran companies as well as cemented their noted anti-democratic control of the country for many decades.

A Continuation of The Status Quo?

Beyond these considerations, the most valuable cannabis currently available in the global market is not grown outside, as has been proposed by Nasralla, but rather inside. Building a competitive export cannabis crop here means that Honduras would have to find places to erect such structures and build the infrastructure necessary to support indoor cultivation. That means capital investment that the country clearly does not have. It would have to come from foreign companies—just like in the past. The ”united” fruit companies of yore were owned by North American investors who cared only about profits, not the welfare of the indigenous population.

For this reason alone, “cannabis reform” here may in fact spell bad news. 

Beyond these problems, there is the environmental impact of outdoor cultivation itself, very similar to the situation in Brazil. Both countries have fragile, rainforest environs that are disappearing fast thanks to the invasions of both landless farmers and illegal drug traffickers.

Because of the destruction of its rainforest, beyond international culprits also responsible for global warming more generally, Honduras is also one of the countries most at risk from climate change. The frequency of natural disasters in the country, including floods, mudslides, tropical storms, and hurricanes, is already increasing dramatically. This scenario is hardly ideal for any kind of commercial cultivation, no matter the environs or the crop.

Driving “illegal” traffickers out of the country will also take more than legalizing the cannabis trade—and there is no guarantee that the legal cannabis industry here will be any more climate-friendly.

Such a scenario is also complicated by one more large problem. Local sources have long claimed that previous governments have participated actively in illicit drug trafficking and cattle ranching along with illegal logging of both mahogany and cedar.

The question is, will the current government, many of whose leaders have campaigned against government corruption in the past, find a sustainable way through the morass of contradictions now afloat in the legalization debate?

Cannabis legalization is an urgent global reform way past its due date. However, cannabis reform just by itself, it is clear, is not a panacea for deeply entrenched issues that frequently surround it in many countries now considering the same.

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