A Colombian dealer gets a cocaine bag ready for sale.
Credit: Eitan Abramovich

LIMA, Peru — Ecuador is on the brink of decriminalizing the use of all drugs.

President Rafael Correa’s grouping in congress is pushing a watershed bill that would regulate consumption of outlawed drugs, including marijuana and cocaine, along with alcohol and other legal highs, like industrial solvents.

The draft for a new drug law says narcotics use should be managed “not by control, repression and even criminalization, but from the perspective of prevention” (page 5 of the bill). 

That would include providing treatment and rehabilitation, and replacing jail with small fines, for drug users. Dealers would still face time behind bars, although less than previously.

The move is the latest in Latin America away from Washington’s “war on drugs,” including Uruguay’s full-blown legalization of cannabis

Ecuador has already freed thousands of convicted drug mules, whom the president views more as victims than perpetrators of the narcotics trade.

Sandwiched between Colombia and Peru, the world’s two largest cocaine producers, Ecuador has become a major trafficking hub.

The bill is the brainchild of Carlos Velasco, who chairs the Ecuadorean congress’ Commission of the Right to Health. On his Facebook page, he wrote: “Treating the drug phenomenon in a repressive way, as was done in the 1980s and 1990s when prison was the only destination for the drug consumer, is absurd.” 

If passed, the bill would finally put into practice some of the broader principles of Ecuador’s 2008 constitution, drawn up by Correa’s leftist Country Alliance grouping. Article 364 views drug use as a public health matter rather than one of law and order. Yet earlier laws with draconian sentences have remained in effect in Ecuador.

But not everyone is happy with the reform. Maria Cristina Kronfle, of the center-right social Christian grouping, has argued that even the bill’s lengthy name — the Organic Law of the Comprehensive Prevention of the Use of Drugs and Controlled Substances — is “mendacious” because relaxing restrictions, in her opinion, would encourage drug consumption.

Debate on the bill is expected to resume in the congress later this month.

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