Pubdate: Wed, 26 Aug 2009 Source: Wall Street Journal (US) Page: A11 Copyright: 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Contact: http://www.wsj.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/487 Author: Matt Moffett Referenced: The ruling, in Spanish http://www.clarin.com/diario/2009/08/25/um/marihuana.pdf Cited: Intercambios http://www.intercambios.org.ar/english/marco.htm ARGENTINA EASES RULES ON MARIJUANA 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."