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One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward in Argentina Drug Policy?

The Argentinian government has introduced new penalties for certain drug offences, including unprecedentedly punitive mandatory minimum sentencing. However, simultaneously, policymakers are mulling proposals on medical cannabis.

On November 8, the government amended Argentinian Narcotics Law #23.737, which was conceived in 1989, with a variety of new stipulations, Mexican news source El Universal reports.

Buying drugs on behalf of someone else, even a small quantity on a not-for-profit basis, will be punishable by a mandatory minimum of six months imprisonment, and a maximum sentence of three years.

According to analyst Marcelo Robles, this update in drug legislation is part of an ongoing commitment by the government to appear tough on drug trafficking – a prominent aspect of President Mauricio Macri’s election campaign. Indeed, Macri has been implementing a hard-line approach to drug policy, including allowing the military to shoot down alleged drug traffickers’ planes, and negotiating with banks to tackle money laundering.

To prevent diversion of precursor chemicals into the illegal market, it will become compulsory for any business using such chemicals to register with the Argentinian National Register of Precursor Chemicals. Any persons who avoid registering, or provide false data to this office, will be punished with at least one year, and up to six years, imprisonment.

The repressive approach towards people involved with precursor chemicals is resultant of a high rate of such chemicals being taken across the border from Argentina to Bolivia for drug production. In July 2016, the Argentinian government found 80 tonnes of sodium bicarbonate, a chemical used for processing cocaine, near the Bolivia border.

Penalties for personal possession and the sale of drugs have not been altered.

These new penalties come at a time when, contrastingly, there is a formidable movement to introduce medical cannabis in Argentina.

According to writer and lawyer Mariano Fusero, there have been eleven recent proposals put forward to an Argentinian parliamentary committee for consideration, all recommending the introduction of medical cannabis in varying forms. Among these, one proposal had majority support in the committee: it advocates the introduction of a model by which cannabis extracts may be imported for patients.

Fusero finds the scope of this proposal to be insufficient, and told TalkingDrugs that he wanted personal cultivation for patients to be decriminalised as a matter of urgency because “the pain does not wait”.

This is a peculiar moment in Argentinian drug policy; as the government introduces harsher penalties to tackle trafficking, it may be on the verge of removing certain penalties on medical cannabis.

El Universal reports that the medical cannabis proposal will be debated in the Deputies Chamber on November 23.

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