Drugs in Peru

Buried deep in Peru’s penal code are the laws that deal with drugs in Peru. They cover the rules, regulations, and potential punishments involved with the illicit trafficking of drugs, from cocaine production to the cultivation of marijuana to coercion to take drugs.

Here we’ll focus mainly on one short section called “Artículo 299° – Posesión no punible,” or in English “Article 299 – Unpunishable possession.” The article makes it pretty clear which common drugs are illegal in Peru above certain quantities, and which are legal in smaller quantities if they are for “one’s own and immediate consumption.”

Unpunishable Possession of Drugs in Peru for Personal Consumption

Article 299 states that you cannot be punished for carrying the following drugs in Peru as long as they don’t exceed the specified quantities:

  • 5 grams of cocaine basic paste
  • 2 grams of cocaine hydrochloride
  • 1 gram of opium latex or 200 milligrams of its derivatives
  • 250 milligrams of ecstasy, containing Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), Methamphetamine or similar substances

One sneaky little sentence in at the end of Article 299 states the following: “The possession of two or more types of drugs is excluded from the scope of the provisions of the preceding paragraph.” In other words, the quantities above are officially OK and unpunishable, but if you have two or more of the drugs above, even in quantities below those stated, you’re breaking the law. So if you get caught with a gram of cocaine and four grams of marijuana, you’re potentially in trouble.

Problems With Interpretation and Enforcement of Drug Laws in Peru

The laws and quantities above are fairly clear, and quite lenient compared to the drug laws of many other countries.

The problem, however, is the “flexible” nature of laws and law enforcement in Peru. Ricardo Soberón Garrido, a Peruvian lawyer and one of the founders of the Drugs and Human Rights Research Center in Lima, has written extensively about just these kind of issues surrounding possession of drugs for personal use.

In “Legislation on drugs and the prison situation in Peru,” Soberón Garrido writes that despite laws like those mentioned in Article 299, the law nonetheless “does not establish precise criteria for police action leaving room for police discretion, frequent cases of corruption, and abuse of persons who possess drugs merely for their own use.”

He also notes that police in Peru consider people in possession of drugs to be potential traffickers – not just in possession of drugs for personal use – and will happily cart them off to the police station. And once at the police station, corruption and unlawful detention can raise their ugly heads.

Foreign Tourists in Peru and Drug Possession

So what does all this mean for foreign tourists in Peru who purchase and carry the drugs listed above for personal use? Well, it means you need to be careful. Even if you are in possession of a supposedly legal amount, a police officer could decide otherwise and arrest you under suspicion of trafficking. And while it’s unlikely you’ll end up being charged, it’ll still be a highly unpleasant experience.

If you are in possession of more than the legal amount, well, you could be screwed. If you’re convicted of trafficking in illegal drugs, you could face a minimum of five years in prison and a maximum of 15. So if you’re considering getting involved in the Peruvian drug trade, watch a few videos about conditions in Peruvian prisons, and then maybe you’ll change your mind.

A Note on Coca, Ayahuasca and San Pedro

In Peru it’s legal to chew coca leaves, drink ayahuasca and take San Pedro (from the Echinopsis pachanoi cactus), all of which are considered part of Peru’s traditional medicine. Be careful when you’re leaving Peru, however, as other countries might well have issues with all three if you try to bring them in. Also be aware that drinking coca tea or chewing coca leaves can result in a positive drug test for cocaine.