Ecuador is going through a process of reform of its legislation on drugs and the related institutional structure. The government of Rafael Correa is pushing forward this process, which began in 2008 with a new constitution that led to the declaration of an amnesty for small-scale traffickers. In February 2014 parliament approved the Organic Criminal Procedures Code. This replaces the criminal offences section of Law 108, a piece of legislation infamous for its harshly disproportionate sentences and drive to prosecute. As a result of the amnesty and the new legislation, thousands of people were freed from prison. Al the beginning of 2015 the National Congress started to debate a proposed Organic Law on the Integrated Prevention of Drugs and the Use of Controlled Substances, a bill which seeks to replace what remains of the old law.
Ecuador has entered a new era in drug policy and legislation. Twenty-five years after the last major legal reform, brought about by the famed Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances Law (Ley de Sustancias Estupefacientes y Psicotrópicas, Law 108), which took effect on September 17, 1990, the National Assembly is about to debate—for the second and final time—the draft Law on Prevention of Drugs and Use or Consumption of Substances Classified as Subject to Oversight (Ley de Prevención de Drogas y Uso y Consumo de Sustancias Catalogadas Sujetas a Fiscalización.)
Ecuador was never a significant center of production or traffic of illicit drugs; nor has it ever experienced the social convulsions that can result from the existence of a dynamic domestic drug market. While Ecuador has become an important transit country for illicit drugs and precursor chemicals and for money laundering, the illicit drug trade has not been perceived as a major threat to the country’s national security. However, for nearly two decades, Ecuador has had one of the most draconian drug laws in Latin America.
In Ecuador, the Correa government’s comprehensive justice sector reform project includes significant changes in drug legislation. The country has one of the most punitive drug laws in the hemisphere. In a perversion of justice, those accused of drug offenses are assumed guilty unless they can prove their innocence, mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines ensure excessively long sentences and arrest quotas have led to the imprisonment of growing numbers of those at the lowest end of the drug trafficking trade.
At the end of 2008, about 1,500 persons were released who were in Ecuadorian prisons sentenced for drug trafficking. The measure, known as “pardon for mules,” singled out a specific group of prisoners who were victims of indiscriminate and disproportionate legislation that was in effect for many years.