Argentina: Reform on the way?

15 July 2010
Policy briefing

In August 2009, the Argentina Supreme Court declared legislation criminalizing drug possession for personal consumption as unconstitutional. This briefing discusses the background of that decision, the small steps taken since, but argues that there is still much to do before a genuine reform agenda can be implemented.

In a memorable decision in August 2009, the Argentina Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional legislation that criminalized drug possession for personal consumption. The court decision followed the same line of thinking as a process started in 2005 within the executive branch, to reformulate the national drug policy. An advisory committee created in 2007 drafted a series of legislative proposals and guidelines for defining public policies on drugs that adhered to human rights standards in the criminal, social and health spheres. The committee’s proposals emphasize the need for a new focus in the field of mental health and education.

The initiative can be traced to the judicial branch, and the judges, prosecutors and legal scholars who best understood the weight and impact of the law. Profound criticism of the way the criminal system disproportionately targeted consumers emerged; particularly the treatment of those smoking marijuana.  At the same time, Argentina was witnessing a change in its role in the drug-trafficking chain, becoming a more important country for transshipment of drugs, a producer and exporter of precursor chemicals, and experiencing an increase in cocaine consumption. A derivative of cocaine, known locally as paco, also began making inroads, causing social concerns and having an impact on poorer sectors of the population.

Since then, obvious tensions and contradictions have become evident within the state and among public opinion in general, on how best to deal phenomena related to the country’s market for illicit drugs. Perhaps the time has come to take a step forward in the process, reflecting a new level of maturity in the national debate, and in a regional context, that widely recognizes the failure of current policies.

Conclusion & Recommendations

• The debate over reforming drug policies has finally gotten underway in Argentina and small steps have been taken in the right direction, but there is still much to do before a reform agenda can be implemented.
• The Supreme Court’s jurisprudence and new institutional stakeholders have novel proposals and resolutions that can return proportionality, efficacy and humanity to judicial practices and public policies.
• The time has come to transform discourse into legislation and bring the intervention practices of public institutions in line with the new laws as a way of guaranteeing better results and reducing harm related to the problem of drug consumption.

Pages: 12

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