* Toledo only social progressive among front-runners
* Leading candidates agree on economic policy
By Terry Wade and Teresa Cespedes
LIMA, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Former president Alejandro Toledo, the frontrunner in Peru’s presidential race, said on Thursday he would consider decriminalizing drug use if elected while cracking down on traffickers in the world’s top coca grower.
Toledo, who backs market-friendly economic policies and has cast himself as a progressive on social issues before the April 10 vote, also said he was pro-choice on abortion and in favor of civil unions for gay couples.
Peru currently allows people to possess small amounts of recreational drugs, including cocaine. Toledo said he might loosen them further. A growing number of Latin American countries already have relaxed laws targeting drug consumers in order to focus police resources on traffickers.
The White House has shown little resistance to the changes after years of frustration fighting the drug war in Latin America.
“Depenalization is an alternative that must be looked at,” Toledo told Peru’s foreign press club in a speech in Lima.
He said police forces and the judiciary must be reformed to put a stop to corruption in a country where small bands of Maoist-influenced Shining Path rebels went into the drug trade after their leaders were captured in the 1990s.
“Otherwise, this will become a narco-state. It’s a serious issue,” he said.
Peru has surpassed Colombia as the world’s leading planter of the leaf used to make cocaine, according to the United Nations, and analysts worry that in the long term violence could grow to Mexican levels or resemble that which caused instability in Colombia a decade ago.
Toledo has sought to distinguish himself on hot-button issues from his two rivals in the race: lawmaker Keiko Fujimori, who is the daughter of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori and Luis Castaneda, the former mayor of Lima.
Both Keiko Fujimori and Castaneda appeal to more socially conservative voters and trail Toledo in most polls by several percentage points. The three leading candidates, however, have similar economic platforms.
“This is a secular state ... The (Roman Catholic) Church cannot interfere,” Toledo said while voicing support for gay civil unions, the right to choose whether to have an abortion, and the availability of the morning-after-pill, which is a form of birth control taken after sexual intercourse.
Abortion in most cases is illegal in Peru, as it is in much of Latin America.
“This isn’t a repressive state and shouldn’t be,” he said.
Toledo, who was the architect of Peru’s free-trade pact with the United States when he was president from 2001 to 2006, reiterated that he favored the current batch of economic policies that have produced a decade of surging growth.
Those policies include legal protections for foreign investors, responsible government spending, and low inflation.
He has said companies in the country’s vast mining sector must “give back” some of their rising profits to poor rural towns by being better corporate citizens and respecting the environment.
“Extractive industries are welcome to come but they don’t have a blank check,” he said.
Still, he has refrained from endorsing nascent calls in Peru’s Congress to increase royalties on the mining sector, which generates 60 percent of the country’s exports.
Miners say higher taxes would drive away some of the $35 billion companies are expected to pour into Peru’s mining industry over the next decade.
“I‘m not in favor of changing the rules of the game in the middle of the game,” he said. (Reporting by Terry Wade and Teresa Cespedes; Editing by Paul Simao)