Ecuador Moves to Decriminalize All Illegal Drugs

Convinced that prohibition of marijuana, or even cocaine, is not the solution to curbing addiction rates or fighting against the black market drug trade, Ecuadorian lawmakers have proposed a historic piece of legislation aimed at decriminalizing all illegal drugs.

Earlier last month, Carlos Velasco, who oversees Ecuador’s congressional Commission of the Right to Health, submitted a bill (Organic Law on Comprehensive Drug Prevention) that would strip away the criminal penalties currently associated with the possession and use of illicit substances, while establishing a system that provides prevention and rehabilitation programs as and alternative to jail.

“Treating the drug phenomenon in a repressive way, as was done in the 1980s and 1990s when prison was the only destination for the drug consumer, is absurd,” said Velasco.

The law, if passed, would allow for the creation of a Technical Secretariat of Drugs, which would set controls on more than 100 substances, regulating every aspect from importation to general use. Anyone wishing to take advantage of the system, whether it is consumer or dealer, would be required to register with the agency and adhere to the rules set forth. The current law punishes individuals caught growing or selling illegal drugs to up to 16 years in prison. Under the revised statute, violators would only be required to surrender their stash and pay a fine.

But will decriminalization serve the greater good of Ecuador?

Many legislators believe the measure is entirely too liberal to be effective, paving the way for an escalation in drug use, while giving dope dealers a free pass. Some even argue that if the grand scheme of the proposal is to simply legalize marijuana that it should be decided on by the people through a referendum.

Others suggest naysayers should look no further than Portugal for evidence against continued prohibition. After all, the latest statistics show that since eliminating penalties for small time drug offenses, Portugal has experienced no significant increase in drug use. In fact, their user rates remain under the European average, and more of their citizens are seeking treatment for opiate addiction than ever before. With that in mind, it is no surprise that the nation’s drug overdoses are also on the decline, as well as cases of HIV/AIDS.

Yet, even proponents of drug reform are not fully prepared to stand in support of the latest decriminalization model. Cannabis Ecuador, an organization that studies the impact of marijuana on Ecuadorian society, says that although Velasco’s proposal is on the right track, it is insufficient in its current state. They believe there is too much grey area left up to interpretation that could threaten the safety of marijuana users across the country.

“The law should provide logical and well-structured avenues, so the public knows what institutions are in charge of rehabilitation and what their responsibilities are,” Gabriel Buitrón, spokesman for Cannabis Ecuador, told The Pan Am Post. This should be framed in constitutional law, and in the Penal Code (COIP), so that the idea that cannabis users are not subject to criminalization or penalty is enforced.”

Fortunately, there appears to be a great deal of support for this proposal. Several members of the assembly have already agreed that treating the Ecuadorian drug problem from a health perspective makes more sense than current incarceration policy.

A continued debate on the issue is expected to happen in the coming weeks.

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