Pubdate: Fri, 05 Dec 2003
Source: Drug War Chronicle (US Web)
Author: Phillip S. Smith, Editor


Would Also Bar Forced Treatment

Deputy Eduardo Garcia of the Socialist Party has introduced a bill in
the Argentine Chamber of Deputies that would decriminalize the
possession and personal use of both hard and soft drugs. The bill,
which was introduced November 18, would also eliminate the compulsory
treatment of drug offenders. If the bill is enacted, Argentina would
join Colombia, Peru, and Uruguay as Latin American countries that have
decriminalized, or in Colombia's case, legalized drug use and possession.

Garcia's bill would modify Law 23.737, the current Argentine drug law,
which is fully in line with US-style prohibitionist policies. To the
law's Article 14, which mandates a one-to-six-year prison term and
fine for drug possession, is added the following clause: "except when,
because of the small quantity and other circumstances, the evidence
suggests unmistakably that possession is for personal use."

The bill also eliminates several articles in Law 23.737 authorizing
coerced drug treatment -- the "drug court" model -- and replaces them
with a new Article 19, which specifies the limited circumstances in
which drug treatment can be ordered. "Treatment can be applied when
the defendant grants his consent or when he presents a danger to
himself or others," says the article.

The authors of the bill use its prologue to lay out their case. Citing
Argentine statistics as well as sources such as the Canadian Senate
special committee on drugs, the prologue argues that the current drug
law has "harmful effects on personal and public health" while it has
showed itself "absolutely ineffective in achieving its expressed
objective of reducing the demand for illicit substances." What is
equally bad, write the authors, is that "it is more than evident that
the criminalization of possession for personal use is highly
inefficient in combating the drug trade, even to the point of causing
the undesired effect of allowing and promoting its

According to Argentine researchers, almost 98% of people arrested
under the drug law had not been jailed before and the same number were
not charged with any crime, while 91% were unarmed and 40% were
employed -- a respectable figure in Argentina's battered economy. And
the vast majority of arrests made under the law -- 87% -- have been
for possession of less than five grams of marijuana or cocaine. A
similar study by the Buenos Aires Health Secretariat found that 89%
had never had problems with the law.

The bill was drafted with the assistance of the Argentine Harm
Reduction Association (, which has also
begun a media campaign to generate support. That campaign is ongoing,
and includes the use of posters and flyers emblazoned with messages
such as "In our country the drug law is more harmful than drugs" and
"Do you know that in Argentina most of the drug related cases are
associated with possession?" The campaign aims not only at generating
support for the bill, but also more broadly at raising public
awareness of the possibility of more effective and humane responses to
the issue of drug use.

"This bill has two key points," said ARDA executive director Silvia
Inchaurraga. "First is no more punishment of possession of personal
use, and second is no more compulsory treatment for drug users. There
is a provision in the bill that would allow treatment options for
people who commit other crimes -- not drug possession -- and have a
drug problem," she told DRCNet. "And the bill modifies existing law so
that different treatment options can be tried. Now, only
abstinence-based treatment is allowed."

The bill is unlikely to move far this year, Inchaurraga said. "We have
a long way to go in discussing the bill with the deputies, and many of
them are changing in a few weeks, but the bill will be forwarded to
the relevant committees -- the health committee and drugs committee,
of course, but also the security committee."

The decriminalization proposal is being championed by Socialist Party
deputies, all eight of whom are cosponsors. But the Socialist Party is
only a part of the third largest bloc in the chamber, the Alternative
Interbloc, whose 29 deputies are outnumbered by the opposition
Radicals (66 seats) and the ruling Peronists (116 seats). While the
bill also has sponsors among the Radical Party, the United Left, and
the National Party's Irma Parentella, who earlier this year introduced
a medical marijuana bill in conjunction with ARDA 
it as yet has no Peronist cosponsors, and the government of President
Nestor Kirchner has given only weak and mixed signals as to whether it
would support it.

"Kirchner has said nothing about the bill," said Inchaurraga, "but he
did nominate Dr. Zafforoni, who supports drug decriminalization, to
the Supreme Court. The Health Minister, who was appointed by
Kirchner's predecessor, however, has criticized the bill, and that was
a surprise to us, but on the other hand, the National Anti-Drug
Secretariat (SEDRONAR) has expressed interest in analyzing the bill."

For Spanish speakers, the bill is available online at:
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake