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.
Some anniversaries provide an occasion for celebration, others a time for reflection, still others a time for action. This June will mark forty years since President Nixon declared a "war on drugs," identifying drug abuse as "public enemy No. 1." As far as I know, no celebrations are planned. What's needed, indeed essential, are reflection -- and action.
If this were happening in any other country, Americans would be aghast. A sentence of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for trying to sell $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer? The punishment is so extreme, so irrational, so wildly disproportionate to the crime that it defies explanation. As of 2012, there were 3,278 prisoners serving sentences of life without parole for such crimes, according to an extensive and astonishing report issued by the American Civil Liberties Union.
With the Organization of American States due to hold a special general assembly in Guatemala on illicit drugs in less than a week, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza insisted there now exists "regional consensus" regarding drug use and trafficking throughout the hemisphere. Insulza said the 35 OAS member nations no longer see the drug problem as a public safety matter but rather as a public health issue. Authorities also want alternatives to jailing drug addicts, he said.
Speaking at a meeting of the hemisphere's security ministers in Medellin, United States Attorney General Eric Holder touted the Obama administration's efforts to curb mandatory minimum sentences. He also backed a more heterodox approach to citizen security, a sign of a subtle shift in the U.S.-backed 'War on Drugs' in the region. Holder delivered his address at the Fourth Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas (MISPA IV), a biannual OAS-sponsored conference designed to promote policy coordination on the issue. (See also: Open letter to Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas)
Police officers in New York are "manufacturing" criminal offenses by forcing people with small amounts of marijuana to reveal their drugs, according to a survey by public defenders. Nearly half of New Yorkers picked up for small amounts of marijuana possession in recent months were not displaying the drug before they were stopped, the study shows, despite an order by New York police chief Ray Kelly that officers should not charge people in such circumstances.
Lawmakers in Mexico's national legislature and Mexico City's Legislative Assembly introduced twin bills to overhaul the country's drug possession and marijuana laws. The federal bill would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes. If passed, Mexico's federal bill would reschedule marijuana as a drug with proven therapeutic value but known risks. The same bill would also allow Mexican states to determine their own marijuana laws, including the creation of tax-and-regulate systems like the ones adopted by voters in Colorado and Washington.
The Annual Report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), released today, calls upon States that ‘continue to impose the death penalty for drug-related offences to consider abolishing the death penalty for such offences’.
"Sending more people to prison will not reduce drug addiction or improve public health," said Anya Sarang, president of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, an advocacy group for people with HIV which works with injecting drug users (IDUs). "Russian prisons are terrible places full of HIV, tuberculosis and other diseases. Drugs are often even more accessible there than anywhere else." She added: "What we need instead of this harsh drug control rhetoric is greater emphasis on rehabilitation, substitution treatment, case management for drug users and protection from HIV."