In recent years, Honduras has become the country with the highest levels of violence in the world. 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.
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.
Across the hemisphere, frustration is grow- ing with the failure of the “war on drugs.” Many Latin American countries face rising rates of drug consumption, despite harsh drug laws that have left prisons bursting at the seams.
On August 2, 2011 the Minister of Justice presented to the Committee on Social Affairs of the Greek Parliament the changes proposed by the legislative committee to reform the drug laws. The basic reforms of the law include: the decriminalization of drug use. The proposal considers drug use as an act of self-harm and has to be addressed by the legislator in the same way as dependence of tobacco or alcohol which are not less dangerous and harmful to health but are not considered as crime.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.