The TNI/CEDD (Colectivo de Estudios Drogas y Derecho / Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law ) Drug Law Reform Project promotes more effective and humane drug policies through analysis of existing drug control policies and by promoting dialogue among key stakeholders and decision-makers. The project is focused on Latin America and hopes to stimulate reforms by pointing out good practices and lessons learned in areas such as proportionality of sentences, prison reform, and the status of the coca leaf in the international conventions.
The status of cannabis in the UN drug conventions is controversial. It is now scheduled among the most dangerous substances. How and why did cannabis get in the conventions? Does it belong there? What are the options to review the status of cannabis according to current scientific data? Is making cannabis subject to a control regime similar to harmful substances like alcohol and tobacco a solution?
Investment protection mechanisms give corporations the right to sue states if they take any measures – including public interest legislation – that might threaten profits. Wellknown versions of this is the Investor state-dispute mechanism (ISDS) which after rising controversy and critisism has been replaced by the Investment court system (ICS). Investment protection mechanisms are included in most new FTAs. Nevertheless, several governments are starting to reconsider their commitments to it as they recognize the danger that it poses to their sovereignty. TNI has produced extensive research highlighting how investment protection gives corporations far-reaching rights that curtail governments’ sovereignty and drain limited public budgets. It has also revealed the big stakes the legal industry has in these mechanisms.
Mexico is the Latin American country that has bore the highest costs from the War on Drugs, suffering from high national rates of violence, corruption in state institutions, and an increase in the power of organised crime groups. As with other countries in the region, implementation of a prohibitionist drug law approach has had the adverse effect of increasing the number of people held in prison for minor drug offences. This page summarises the latest developments in the debate on drug law and drug policy in Mexico.
Since his election in 2012, President Otto Pérez Molina has been encouraging public debate regarding the need for national drug policy reform. The plea was mainly directed to the international community: firstly to the governments of Central America, followed by a call upon the Americas Summit, then to the Organisation of American States (OAS), and finally to the UN. Although a review of the country’s existing legal framework on drugs was announced on several occasions, law reform proposals have yet to be presented in Guatemala’s parliament.
As an island that is viewed as the mecca of cannabis culture, many are surprised to learn that Jamaica is only now in the midst of reforming its cannabis laws. The cultivation, selling, and consumption of cannabis as all other drugs have been illegal since 1913. However, following a unanimous symbolic vote in the Jamaican House of Representatives last October, the Jamaican government announced in June 2014 that it would decriminalise marijuana possession for personal consumption and religious/medical use by the end of the year. In January 2015, Justice minister Mark Golding introduced a Bill that in addittion to decriminalizing the possession of ganja up to two ounces, it would establish a cannabis licensing authority to regulate cultivation, sale and distribution for medical, scientific and therapeutic purposes. The Bill passed both in Senate and House of Representatives on February 2015.
In recent years, Honduras has become the country with the highest levels of violence in the world. According to figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in 2012 the country had a murder rate of 92 per 100,000 people. Organised crime and its connection with drug trafficking may be one of the causes of this increase in violence. Drug trafficking gangs use the country as a transit point on the route to the United States. The violence is related to the conflicts between the gangs in their dispute over territory, extortion, money laundering, etc. Several legislative initiatives were proposed in 2012 to reduce drug trafficking and improve transparency and effectiveness in the judicial system and the security forces.
In Peru, coca leaf consumption has never been criminalized and a state-controlled licensing system exists for its cultivation and distribution. With regard to other drugs, in 1982, Decree 122 established that dependent users shall no longer be punished for possession of drugs for immediate personal consumption, but only when a medical certification is provided to prove the dependency.
Historically, Brazilian drug legislation has been strongly influenced by the UN drugs conventions. Under these conventions, Brazil committed to 'combating' drug trafficking and reducing consumption and demand through any means possible, including the most drastic one, criminal law. Moreover, the official commitment to the international narcotics monitoring system and the close diplomatic and trade ties between Brazil and the United States led to the adoption of a prohibitionist approach that was very much in line with the U.S. war on drugs.
Like in other countries in the region, drug control measures by the government of Ecuador have been modeled after the pressure and interests of the United States. Even though the country is an important hub for the transit of illicit drugs and chemical supplies, as well as for money laundering, trafficking is not perceived as a significant threat. This is also the case because the cultivation of coca is minimal compared to other countries in the region such as Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Paradoxically, Ecuador has one of the most severe drug legislations in Latin America.
Significant drug laws reforms have been made in some Latin American countries in recent years. Many of these countries have also made statements in international forums to express their support for effective alternatives to current drug policy. Change is in the air in Latin America. The following questions and answers on Uruguay discuss recent developments in the country with regard to these issues.
Chile is progressively reforming its drug laws, especially under Michelle Bachelet’s new administration. These proposals recognise that there is a growing international tendency to view drug policy in a new lens, one that is based upon health considerations and empirical research. Recent proposals include reassessing the categorisation of cannabis as a Class A drug and implementing regulations regarding the quantities that would be allowed for personal use.
The current law prohibits drug use and punishes possession for personal use with internment and forced treatment. Domestically, a legal market for coca leaf has always existed and Bolivia is trying to change the international legal regime for the coca leaf.
Argentina is known as a “transit country” for cocaine. In the last few decades the use of controlled drugs has increased, and in recent years some cocaine chlorhydrate processing laboratories have appeared, though not to the same extent as in Colombia, Peru or Bolivia. Problem drug use in Argentina is associated with cocaine base paste, known locally as paco or lata.
Although the legislative trend in Colombia has tended towards the criminalization of possession and consumption of psychoactive substances, decriminalization prevailed when it comes to jurisprudence. In addition, while the government of former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010) insisted on prohibiting, persecuting and punishing drug consumption through legislative and judicial channels, the country’s health sector, influenced by more progressive trends for dealing with consumption, made important progress in the areas of risk and harm reduction.
In 1993, Venezuela replaced prison sentences with ‘social security measures’ for possession of up to 2 grams of cocaine and 20 grams of cannabis. Possession for personal use is punished with referral to treatment, which can still lead to obligatory internment in specialized centers.
As a result of a truce between the country’s main gangs (Maras), the number of murders in El Salvador so far in 2013 is down by about 45 per cent in comparison to the year before. Since El Salvador is one of the countries with the highest murder rates in the world (71 per 100,000 people in 2011), the truce represents a step forward in the eradication of street violence and, some believe, in the fight against the retail drug trade and trafficking.