Mexico and Argentina’s recent decisions to decriminalize the personal use of drugs mark a growing trend across Latin America to reject the now-40-year-old, U.S.-led, Nixon-founded “war on drugs” as both harmful and ineffective. —J.C.
Bruno Avangera, a 40-year-old web designer from Tucumán in Argentina, pauses to relight a half-smoked joint of cannabis. Then he speaks approvingly of “progress and the right decision” by the country’s seven supreme court judges, who decided last week that prosecuting people for the private consumption of small amounts of narcotics was unconstitutional.
“Last year three of my friends were caught smoking a spliff in a park and were treated like traffickers,” he said. “They went to court, which took six months. One went to jail alongside murderers. The others were sent to rehab, where they were treated for an addiction they didn’t have, alongside serious heroin and crack users. It was pointless and destroyed their lives.”
The court’s ruling was based on a case involving several men caught with joints in their pockets. As a result, judges struck down an existing law stipulating a sentence of up to two years in jail for those caught with any amount of narcotics. “Each individual adult is responsible for making decisions freely about their desired lifestyle without state interference,” the ruling said. “Private conduct is allowed unless it constitutes a real danger or causes damage to property or the rights of others.”
Is the “war on drugs” ending? The Argentinian ruling does not stand alone. Across Latin America and Mexico, there is a wave of drug law reform which constitutes a stark rebuff to the United States as it prepares to mark the 40th anniversary of a conflict officially declared by President Richard Nixon and fronted by his wife, Pat, in 1969.
Mexico hopes decriminalizing lesser drug offenses will sharpen the focus on the drug cartels. Here Mexican police inspect a load of frozen shark carcasses stuffed with cocaine that was seized before it could be smuggled into the U.S.