In Latin America’s latest challenge to Washington’s “war on drugs,” Ecuador has quietly begun releasing thousands of convicted cocaine smugglers. The move is a result of the country’s new criminal law, which took effect August 10. It treats “drug mules” who commit the low-profit, high-risk offense more as vulnerable people exploited by cartels than as hardened criminals. Around 500 mules have already been freed and at least another 2,000 are expected to follow, says Jorge Paladines, national coordinator of the Public Defender’s Office.
The attorney general, Patrick Atkinson, must move with dispatch to determine, as the justice minister, Mark Golding, suggests, whether the police can proceed by issuing summonses to, rather than arresting, persons who are to be prosecuted for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The idea makes sense in the face of the Government's declared policy to decriminalise ganja use, but has added urgency following last week's death, apparently the result of a severe beating while in a Montego Bay police lock-up, of Mario Deane, who was arrested for a ganja cigarette. (See also: Ganja decision should not be based on votes)
A call has been made for the government to declare an amnesty on all arrests for the possession of under one pound of marijuana. The plea from the Ganja Future Growers Producers Association was made following the death of Mario Deane who was in the custody of the State. Deane was arrested and held at the Barnett Street police station lock-up in western Jamaica for possession of a marijuana spliff. While in custody, he was beaten and died in hospital a few days later.
Around 2,000 inmates convicted of low-level drug offences could be released in Ecuador under a new criminal code, as countries across the Americas slowly move away from harsh punishments for minor drug crimes. In an interview with El Comerico, Ecuador's chief public defender, Ernesto Pazmiño, said that thousands of people convicted of drug possession, street sales or acting as "mules" (couriers) will have their cases reassessed after the country's new Integrated Penal Code comes into force.
In February, the Italian Constitutional Court ruled that most of the 2006 drug law norms were unconstitutional. Following this pronouncement, at the end of May, the Court of Cassation decided that people sentenced and incarcerated under the illegitimate norms have the right to be resentenced. The decision may affect about 10.000 prisoners detained for cannabis crimes.
Latin American drug policies have made no dent in the drug trade; instead they have taken a tremendous toll on human lives. In 2009, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Transnational Institute (TNI) embarked on an ambitious project to document the real impact of Latin America’s “war on drugs” and to show its human cost through the video testimonies of the victims themselves.
Brazil has been struggling with drug violence for years. The problem got so bad that the country passed a law in 2006 to distinguish between dealers and users in handing out sentences, meant to reduce the overwhelming pressure on the justice and jail systems and to better single out dealers. But since then, the number of Brazilians in prison for drug charges has more than doubled and its total prison population has grown by 37 percent.
Remarkable drug policy developments are taking place in Latin America. This is not only at the level of political debate, but is also reflected in actual legislative changes in a number of countries. All in all there is an undeniable regional trend of moving away from the ‘war on drugs’. This briefing explains the background to the opening of the drug policy debate in the region, summarises the most relevant aspects of the ongoing drug law reforms in some countries, and makes a series of recommendations that could help to move the debate forward in a productive manner.
Draft legislation that foresees the decriminalization of the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use but the leveling of criminal charges against individuals caught growing or manufacturing drugs or using them in public was submitted in Parliament in Greece. The bill is part of a broader initiative aimed at decongesting Greece’s jails, many of which are filled to beyond double their capacity. (See also: Drug law reform in Greece)
Intercambios Civil Association and the Social Sciences School of the University of Buenos Aires launched the book “Encarcelamientos por delitos relacionados con estupefacientes en Argentina” (Imprisonment for drugs related offenses in Argentina) by Alejandro Corda on the 29th of August, 2011.
The Ministry of Justice in Brazil announced the results of research that show that there are too many people behind bars in Brazil for drug trafficking. The Ministry subsequently recommended a review of drug legislation in light of the data and in support of human rights, seems to indicate that things are changing, or at least that change is in the air for drug policy in the nation. The study was a joint project of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, UFRJ, and the University of Brasília UnB, coordinated by Luciana Boiteux.