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.)
Since 1996, the TNI Drugs & Democracy programme has been analysing the trends in the illegal drugs market and in drug policies globally. The programme has gained a reputation worldwide as one of the leading international drug policy research institutes and as a serious critical watchdog of UN drug control institutions, in particular the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).
The backbone of the United Nations drug control system consists of three UN Drug Conventions. The prohibition of potentially harmful substances has its origin in the desire to protect human well-being. However, the way in which the global regime was set up decades ago and the escalation of repression it has brought about since, has been an historical mistake increasing rather than diminishing the problems. There is no point now in dreaming about how the world might have looked without it, or deluding ourselves that all the problems could be solved by scrapping the conventions. The challenge is to create the political space which would allow a reform process to move ahead. A process guided by pragmatism, open-mindedness and evaluation of practices on the basis of costs and benefits; providing leeway for experimentation and freedom to challenge the wisdom of the existing conventions.
State-level cannabis reforms, which gathered steam this month, have exposed the inability of the United States to abide by the terms of the legal bedrock of the global drug control system; the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This is something that should force a much-needed conversation about reform to long- standing international agreements. But while ostensibly 'welcoming' the international drug policy reform debate, it is a conversation the US federal government actually wishes to avoid.
State-level cannabis reforms have exposed the inability of the United States to abide by the terms of the legal bedrock of the global drug control system. It is calls for a conversation the US federal government wishes to avoid. The result is a new official position on the UN drugs treaties that, despite its seductively progressive tone, serves only to sustain the status quo and may cause damage beyond drug policy.
For more than ten years, TNI’s Drugs & Democracy programme has been studying the UN drug control conventions and the institutional architecture of the UN drug control regime. As we approach the 2016 UNGASS, this primer is a tool to better understand the role of these conventions, the scope and limits of their flexibility, the mandates they established for the CND, the INCB and the WHO, and the various options for treaty reform.
Uruguay has one of the most advanced drug policies on the continent. In Uruguay, the law does not criminalize drug use or possession of drugs for personal use. In addition, in recent years its national drug policies have prioritized the prosecution of medium and large-scale traffickers rather than focusing resources and energy on small-time dealers who are easily replaced. This country study examines the scope of the legislation, the policies developed and how the normative and policy frameworks find expression in Uruguay’s prison system, with a special focus on the population incarcerated for drug-related offenses.
Argentina has been developing criminal laws on these substances since 1924, but their repressive aspects have become more pronounced since the 1970s. The growing persecution resulting from these laws has mainly fallen on drug users and minor players linked to trafficking activities.
In contrast to other Central American countries, the possession of drugs for immediate personal use is not a criminal offence in Costa Rica. In August 2013 the cultivation, manufacture, transport and trafficking of drugs have all been made a criminal offence under the same article, which provides for a prison sentence of between 8 and 15 years without making any distinction between the offences. The government of Costa Rica supports the launch of an open international debate on the issue, but has declared itself against decriminalisation.
Brazil is debating reform of current drug legislation. Changes to the Criminal Code are being discussed in Senate and the debate includes new articles on drugs. Several legal bills to reform the existing drug law are waiting to be reviewed.
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.
A radically different approach to the current War on Drugs must be developed and integrated into the Peace Plan for Colombia otherwise the drug circuit and armed conflict will continue to undermine the prospect of realizing the goals of the Peace Process ultimately bringing to an end the war in Colombia.