Conclusions and perspectives

Consensus gained on decriminalization of drug possession and cultivation for personal consumption

For ninth consecutive year The National Conference on Drug Policies was held July 5th 2011 in the auditorium of the annex of the House of Representatives of the Argentine Republic. The event, organized by civil association Intercambios, a nongovernmental organization with fifteen years of experience on the study and assistance of drug related issues, gathered over 400 participants including specialists, public officials, and activists of Argentina. On a year marked by the electoral agenda, Intercambios also presented a survey conducted among candidates on the necessary reforms of the Narcotics Law.  Upon inaugurating the Conference, Graciela Touzé, president of Intercambios, affirmed: “In Argentina, the end of the war on drugs must be reflected through a reform of Narcotics Law Nº 23,737 for the decriminalization of drug possession for personal consumption and cultivation”.

Touzé recalled that forty years from former President Nixon’s declaration of drugs as “public enemy”, on the past June 17th seventy Latin American social organizations signed a declaration calling for an end to a war which “only generated violations to human rights, death, and mass incarceration of drug users, farmers and poor women”.


In that context, Chief of Cabinet of Ministers, Aníbal Fernández, affirmed: “No more going after the little fish, let’s not commit the stupidity of thinking that the war on drugs can be fought by going after kids who are carrying a joint”. In reference to the current Narcotics Law Nº 23,737 he expressed: “At the end of this year I’ll no longer be Chief of Cabinet but I will continue to work on the subject as senator, and if the reform isn’t passed sooner, I guarantee you it will be later”.

In turn, Mónica Cuñarro, Executive Secretary of the National Coordinating Committee of Public Policy regarding Prevention and Control of Illicit Drug Trafficking, Transnational Organized Crime, and Corruption recalled life stories of tortured or imprisoned drug users in the last three months. “It’s much easier to adhere to the ‘war on drugs’ advertisement. But who is the war against? Against twelve thousand people imprisoned each year for using drugs, small dealers, and mules”. And she finished off: “I don’t want the greatest success to be the Court’s Ruling” in reference to the Supreme Court Ruling known as the “Fallo Arriola”, that declared unconstitutional the decriminalization of possession for personal consumption in 2009.

Yago Di Nella, National Director of Mental Health and Addictions of the National Health Ministry announced that “teams of community health assistance in six hundred Community Integration Centers (CIC) throughout the country are being included for the assistance of addictions as well as prevention”. The health official affirmed: “It is unheard of in Argentina for a health policy on addictions to start with the assistance of the people rather than the persecution of the substances”.

Legislators in favor of decriminalization

House of Representatives members Horacio Alcuaz (GEN party), Victoria Donda (Libres del Sur party), the Buenos Aires City Legislator Diana Maffia (Coalición Cívica party) and Alejandra Rico (on behalf of Adriana Puiggrós, House member for Frente para la Victoria party) initiated the morning in the “Drug Policies on the agenda of the 2011 campaign” round table, coordinated by journalist Eva Amorín, in charge of press relations for the Civil Association Intercambios. All agreed on their positions in favor of not only the decriminalization of possession for personal consumption, but also personal cultivation, as necessary modifications to the Narcotics Law Nº 23,737.

Congressman Horacio Alcuaz representing the GEN party expressed that personal cultivation “is safer and serves to disarticulate one sector of the commercialization”, to which Donda, Maffia, and Puiggros’ advisor agreed with. “It is the State who must unequivocally show if a person is part of a drug trafficking network, and not the person who is cultivating privately; otherwise the burden of the proof gets inverted”, expressed Donda.

In reference to the proposals for eliminating not only the charges of possession for consumption but also the charge of “simple possession”, Rico expressed: “We must design a Law which is possible and which has consensus between all the sectors. We have to debate the implications of eliminating this concept”. Congresswoman Donda exemplified that “possession is the act previous to the act, therefore, it is not criminal; I can have a pen a use it to write or to throw it into someone’s eye”. And she sustained that the discussion sets out from the simple possession category. Diana Maffia agreed.

When analyzing how to distinguish the different trafficking players within the law, Alcuaz indicated: “differentiated charges must exist in the framework of different responsibilities of this chain. We must take into account that when some political or police levels take protection away from the lower links, the one caught is the ‘small fry’, who is the fastest to replace and has no influence on the continuation of the business”.

Victoria Donda and Diana Maffia stressed the gender discrimination proven in statistics: 70 % of the women in the penitentiary system have drug-related cases. Compliance to the norm which sets forth house arrest for these women (mostly poor and providers of their families) was requested.

The legislators finished off their presentations demanding the State’s presence in  prevention and treatments as well as the creation of dignified living conditions. In summary, the panel’s debate expressed a categorical NO to the participation of the armed forces and to the media lightly relating young people, violence and drugs, as well as the urgent need for legislative reform and reporting of political and police connivance.

Organized crime and drug economics

What are the characteristics of the illegal drug markets? What is the relation between the State and these markets? Is it true that consumers, small dealers, and mules suffer the major criminal persecution? These questions served as guide for the “Drugs, control and security” panel, that in coordination with researcher Alejandro Corda, collaborator of Intercambios, revealed aspects of economics, State complicity, and impact on the lives of the more fragile links of the drug market.

On explaining the characteristics of the illegal drug markets, University of Quilmes professor Marcelo Saín, expert on international security, stated: “The problem is organized crime, not drug trafficking”. He affirmed that: “the illegal markets need State intervention to structure themselves”, and pointed to the police as “the player that regulates the illegal drug market”.  

In turn, economist Enrique Aschieri, coordinator of the International Economics Department of the International Society for Development added to the analysis: “The market logics for illegal merchandise is the same as for legal merchandise— without demand, there’s no one to produce for. The problem with organized crime is the central countries’ demand and the drugs topic is just one more of the transnationalized markets”.

According to psychologist María Santos, in charge of the Gender team of the Penitentiary Legal Office of the Nation, “it is the women who are mostly deprived of their freedom for drug related issues”. The result of the research project: “Women in prison, the scope of the punishment” developed in collaboration with CELS [Center for Legal and Social Studies] and the Attorney General’s Office, showed a 350% increase in female jail population from 1990 to 2007.

The lives of these women went from doing informal or occasional jobs or house work to being in prison; most of them for non violent crimes, commercialization and transport. Of the foreign women, 90% are detained for commercialization and transport. Over 85% of the inmates are mothers and providers of their families. Most are detained preventively and for the first time. Santos requested “lower than three year sentences for mules, i.e. releasable”.

Lawyer, Gabriela Basalo, member of the Argentine Network for the Rights and Assistance of Drug Users (RADAUD) stated that “Law Nº 23,737 establishes a perverse system in which the objective seems to be to facilitate the job of the police in detriment of the rights and guarantees of the persons; 70% of the people deprived of their freedom as a result of the Narcotics Law are simply users”. She also considered that criminalization of drug possession and consumption “simply pushed the users away from the health system”. Finally, she affirmed: “To prohibit cultivation of marijuana is to promote drug dealing”.

Alicia Castilla, author of the book “Cultura Cannabis” [Cannabis Culture], who was detained this year in Uruguay where she was released but continues to be under legal process, described through video what the procedure of her detention had been like: “five police cars arrived at my house, they took jars because they smelled like marijuana, my computers, cellular phones, the orange juicer, a blender, and my homeopathic medicine”.

“In prison I learned another part of the failure of the war on drugs”, she commented. “I found out that there were small and medium dealers. So, in addition to the cartels there are many freelance dealers”. Castilla affirmed that in prison “the majority are about to sell cocaine paste, and a certain minority cocaine”.   



Community health experiences

The passing of the National Law on Mental Health at the end of 2010 paved the way to review the assistance paradigm of the drug users. With a panel made up of people with experience working with mental health, the table “Contributions to think about the methods for the assistance of drug users”, moderated by Paula Goltzman,in charge of the Intervention Department of Intercambios focused on community assistance as an alternative.

The expert from Paraguay, Agustín Barúa Caffarena, Chief of the Community Health Department of the National University of Asunción, presented the work experience in his country, where there are currently 503 mental health teams (“made up of professionals and community health agents hired by the municipality”) depending of the Health Ministry of Paraguay that are working in the communities. He explained that “the idea is to reach 1700 teams to achieve universal coverage around the country”.  They work with a methodology they named “clinitaria[1] which is based on three focal points: approach, relation, and accompaniment. “These three words define our objective centered on solidary social relationship”.

From Rosario city, Lautaro D’Anna, social worker and member of the Project for the Prevention and Treatment of Addictions of the Youth Centers of said city presented a report based on the construction of territorial settlement and work between the different programs of the State. “We propose to break up the concept of ‘My’ —’my program’, ‘my workshop’.  Because for example, teenagers with babies are constantly coming in and asking to learn a trade. These people should be looked after by a bunch of different programs, it would be like breaking up the situation into fifteen different programs. So what we do is work with mini-teams, we try to articulate and build the intervention from different sectors.  This is to undo a little the idea that the addiction program comes and solves the drug problem. Which is a myth because no single program alone can solve this matter”, he explained.

Vanda Ianowski, Chief of the Community Mental Health Department of the Río Negro Province, presented the Provincial Plan for Prevention, Assistance, and Rehabilitation of Persons with Problematic Drug Use of that province. With the idea of an integrated approach from the harm reduction model, social participation is proposed as main focal point “because community mental health is not possible without popular organization”.

Ianowski stated: “On a local level we proposed an inter-institutional team which is a support team that combines the existing resources. It is inter-ministerial given that it articulates with the idea of re transforming the demand—taking the focus away from the drug use in order to see the person’s life and work on its integrality. This is particularly important in the case of problematic substance abuse. Hospitalization should be left as a last resource, it should be brief, and it should be for a quick social integration”.

In turn, Roxana Amendolaro, Coordinator of the Discrimination and Mental Health Program of the INADI [National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism] presented a state of the situation according to the figures gathered in the book “Vidas Arrasadas” [Shattered Lives] of which she is co-author and is published by CELS. The book deals with the suffering in mental health institutions—25,000 persons are detained in hospitalization centers, over 80% remain hospitalized for more than one year, 75% are in large centers (800 beds or more), between 60% and 90% of these people should not be hospitalized and at least 75% of the population that required mental health assistance during their lives did not receive it. Amendolaro recalled that the recent Mental Health Law Nº 26,657 establishes in art. 4 that “addictions must be approached as an integrating part of the mental health field” and this means that “the people who have drug use problems, whether they be legal or illegal drugs, have all the rights and guarantees”, this paves the way to the possibility of thinking in new interventions.


A war for the control of production

At the closing of the 9th National Conference on Drug Policies, Brazilian sociologist Vera Malagutti Batista, Criminology Professor of the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro and General Secretary of the Carioca Criminology Institute presented an outlook on the implications in the city of Río de Janeiro of the current policies of control in the ‘favelas’ under the argument “the fight against drug trafficking and urban violence” implemented through the Police Peacekeeping Forces (UPP).

She pointed out that: “the UPP are actually occupying forces”. In her master conference “Politics and Drug Policies in Latin America”, she described the procedure: “The police arrive, kill fifteen-twenty dealers and then take control of the territories; and for example, the music of the popular young people such as funk is forbidden in all the pacified areas. If you want to celebrate a baptism or a birthday, you have to ask the Chief of Police, who is the new boss of the ‘favela’, for permission”.

For the criminologist, “former president Lula Da Silva implemented many positive social measures for the people, but he committed the mistake of allowing the use of armed forces in the so called fight against drug trafficking. It is a recommendation that the United States always makes to the rest of the world, but has never put into practice in its own country. However, the U.S. really likes countries of Latin America to use armed forces in matters of domestic security. And this is not innocent”.

Why isn’t it innocent? Because it introduces the belligerent model into everyday life. “There is an ever increasing investment in the fight against crime, expense that is justified from generating new campaigns of mass social panic. The center of the problem is not the drug per se, but rather the control of the portion of youths considered dangerous—the poor youths”.

“The number of dead as a result of the war on drugs in my city is terrifying. This year, the police of Rio de Janeiro commemorated as a victory that they only killed eight hundred people. It was a celebration because we have an average of 1200 people murdered by the police per year, according to official records”, she pointed out. “Our countries have turned into battlefields against drugs, but in this battle the dead and incarcerated are farmers and poor young people”.

Vera Malagutti Batista affirmed that she would rather not speak in terms of “drug traffic”, but rather in “production” and “commerce” given that this is a market, in this moment illegal but with the same patterns as any market. In view of the decriminalization of consumption in various European countries and the first signs in various districts of the United States, she warned: “If decriminalization advances worldwide it is important to make a geopolitical interpretation, because in a few years the discussion will be the control of the lucrative phase of production and location of the drugs. Latin America may lose its possibility of having  control of its own territories if it simply concentrates on decriminalizing consumption”.


During the 9th National Conference on Drug Policies, new elements were able to be included that until now had not appeared in the analysis of past years: consensus gained between legislators and politicians in general in order for the reform of the  Narcotics Law to focus on finally eliminating the drug users from the criminal sphere. Legislators and candidates openly expressed themselves in favor of the decriminalization of drug possession and personal cultivation.

A more serious and complex analysis is observed regarding the drug market as a business of organized crime in which economic factors and key protagonism of complicity between different links of the State come together; as well as the reporting and clear evidencing of the cost in destruction of entire families meaning that the war on drugs is paid by the weaker links of the trafficking chain such as the “mules” and the young people from poor neighborhoods.

The third important focal point centered on the possibilities of reviewing the methods of health assistance for drug users from community mental health systems. The difficulties of articulation between the “different parts” or social programs in which the people’s needs are fragmented were left exposed.

During the closing, Graciela Touzé expressed: “The challenge is for these debates to retranslate themselves not only into the possibility of rethinking the consequences of  current approach to drug related problems, but also into  legislative reform and public policies that shall effectively allow respect for human rights, autonomy and a better quality of life for the people”.

The conference was sponsored by the Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI) and the Levi Strauss Foundation. In addition, it counted with the support of the Health Ministry of the Nation, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights of the Nation, the Security Ministry of the Nation, the Ministry of Social Development of the Nation, the Public Ministry of Defense, the Public Defense Office, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the Human Rights Secretary of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the Social Sciences and Psychology Faculties of the University of Buenos Aires, the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), the Federation of nongovernmental Organizations of Argentina (FONGA), the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the International Federation of Catholic Universities (FIUC), the Latin American Group on Drug Policies (GRULAD), Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC), Harm Reduction International (IHRA), Psicotropicus,  Brazilian Center for Drug Policies, the Transnational Institute (TNI), and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

[1] Invented word formed from the combination of the Spanish words: “clínico” and “comunitario”, meaning ‘clinical’ and ‘communitarian’ respectively.

[1] Invented word formed from the combination of the Spanish words: “clínico” and “comunitario”, meaning ‘clinical’ and ‘communitarian’ respectively.


Los comentarios están cerrados.