Pubdate: Wed, 26 Aug 2009
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Page: A11
Copyright: 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Matt Moffett
Referenced: The ruling, in Spanish
Cited: Intercambios


BUENOS AIRES -- Argentina's Supreme Court largely decriminalized 
possession of small quantities of marijuana, part of a Latin American 
trend toward easing sanctions on personal drug use.

The unanimous ruling struck down a 1989 Argentine law that dictated 
prison sentences of up to two years for drug possession. The case 
overturns the convictions of five young men, swept up in a 
trafficking investigation, for possession of between one and three 
marijuana cigarettes each.

The Argentine ruling comes as many countries in the region are trying 
to shift their drug-enforcement focus to traffickers rather than 
consumers. Last week Mexico, which is in the midst of a battle with 
sophisticated drug gangs that has claimed thousands of lives, 
decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, cocaine and heroin. Brazil 
and Ecuador are among other Latin American countries that have moved 
in recent years to ease penalties against small-scale possession.

Argentina has decriminalized possession of small amounts of 
marijuana. Above, a gardener in Buenos Aires with a hemp plant. 
Argentina marijuana Argentina marijuana

In Argentina, the drug debate has played out amid a growing problem 
of addiction to paco, a cheap, smokable cocaine derivative. Paco has 
swept through Argentine barrios the way crack once did in the U.S.

Argentina's leftist president, Cristina Kirchner, has spoken out in 
principle in favor of decriminalization policies, calling for greater 
focus on rehabilitation of addicts and law-enforcement action against 
trafficking networks. The government has been studying a legislative 
overhaul of drug laws, which should be facilitated by the Supreme Court ruling.

The Supreme Court decision could be more broadly interpreted by lower 
courts to sanction possession for personal use of other drugs besides 
marijuana, says Alejandro Corda, a lawyer for Intercambios, a 
nongovernmental group in Buenos Aires specializing in drug policy. He 
says the 1989 law that the ruling overturned doesn't mention specific 
types of drugs that are banned.

The Argentine court ruling was less sweeping than some 
decriminalization advocates had sought, however. The court sanctioned 
possession only in cases where third parties or minors aren't 
affected. Analysts said it was significant that the ruling didn't 
overturn the sentences against the dealers who had sold the men the marijuana.

On Tuesday, the government's cabinet chief, Anibal Fernandez, hailed 
the Supreme Court for bringing to an end "the repressive policy that 
the Nixon administration invented" in the U.S. He said the military 
government that ruled Argentina in the 1970s and part of the 1980s 
had readily followed Washington's lead in establishing punitive 
policies that haven't "reduced a single hectare of crops in any place 
in the world."

Argentina's decriminalization push has drawn fierce criticism from 
conservative politicians, as well as from the Roman Catholic Church. 
"It's necessary to make access and consumption more difficult, not to 
facilitate it," said Jorge Lozano, a Catholic bishop. "The ruling can 
be read as saying everything is fine, and that's a harmful message."