Argentina takes relaxed position on recreational drugs

23 February 2009
In the media
Published at
Scotland on Sunday
Cites Martin as TNI
ARGENTINA is adopting an increasingly liberal attitude toward recreational drug use, with the government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner moving to decriminalise the personal use of illicit substances and give the country one of the more tolerant drug-consumption policies in the world. "I don't like it when people condemn someone who has an addiction as if he were a criminal," Kirchner said. "The ones that should be persecuted are the ones who sell the substances." That attitude is shared across Latin America, where governments ADVERTISEMENT or high courts in Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico have also recently moved to decriminalise small-scale possession for personal use. Even so, the rising consumption of ecstasy in Argentina has largely caught officials by surprise, helping ignite a heated debate in recent weeks over the government's new drug policy. Several provincial governors, as well as Kirchner's own vice president, have spoken out against the proposal, which may go before Congress before the end of this month. Also due soon is a decision from the Argentine Supreme Court on whether to uphold a lower court's ruling invalidating a 20-year-old law imposing criminal penalties on drug users. Meanwhile, a dispute has also erupted between the justice minister, who is promoting the idea of decriminalisation, and the director of the government's drug control and addiction prevention agency, who expresses scepticism, leading to much finger-pointing over who is to blame for the country's drug problems. Argentina has the highest per-capita use of cocaine in the Americas after the United States, according to a 2006 survey by the United Nations. The drug paco – a highly addictive chemical byproduct of cocaine production – has become a deadly plague of the poor. But throughout Latin America, prison overcrowding is helping to soften policies on drug use, said Martin Jelsma, co-ordinator of the programme on drugs at the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, a research organisation.