Judges, prosecutors and public defenders from across Argentina have joined together to demand the government reform its drug laws by decriminalising drug possession for personal use and exploring regulation.
In a public declaration published late last month by Asociación Pensamiento Penal (APP), 265 legal professionals in Argentina put forward a series of recommendations for reforming the country’s drug laws. Among these are: holding a congressional debate to reform Law 23.737 and end the criminalisation of people who use drugs; ending compulsory drug treatment; developing harm reduction policies; alternatives to incarceration for low-level drug offenders; and, exploring the regulation of currently illicit substances.
The declaration was released to coincide with the 30-year anniversary of the so-called Bazterrica Ruling in 1986 whereby the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional to prosecute someone for possessing drugs intended for their own use. This ruling was echoed in 2009 when the Supreme Court issued the Arriola decision.
Despite both decisions from the country’s highest court, Argentina has yet to write drug decriminalisation into law. Indeed, from 2002 to 2013, the number of people incarcerated for drug-related offences in Argentina more than doubled.
Mariano Fusero, a lawyer with APP, told TalkingDrugs that while the extensive domestic media coverage of the declaration was a huge positive, to expect the conservative government to action all recommendations would be “naïve.” He added, though, that the government had taken note of the declaration in light of its signatories, and that a bill proposing the decriminalisation of possession offences could eventually make it to congress for debate.
Former-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s raised the prospect that her government would explore implementing a decriminalisation policy when she publicly called for reform in 2008, yet nothing materialised during her time in office, as TalkingDrugs has previously reported on.
Following the presidential election victory of Mauricio Macri in 2015, the prospect of reform seems more remote. Since assuming office in December last year, Macri has taken a tough line on drugs, authorising the military in January 2016 to shoot down planes suspected of drug trafficking. Last month he unveiled a new cross-party initiative titled “Argentina without Drug Trafficking,” which would involve among its measures increasing prison terms for those convicted of drug-related offences, reported the Buenos Aires Herald.
Fusero notes that APP is also up against public opinion, which is heavily ingrained with "prejudices and misinformation that are socially installed through many decades of prohibitionist policies and stigmatising rhetoric against people who use drugs." However, "the debate proposed by the Declaration and its media coverage provides an interesting opportunity to rebut such prejudices and provide information to sectors of the population that still are not convinced of the need for reform."