Ecuadorian Activists Want Nothing Less than Universal Marijuana

Ecuador's National Assembly is currently debating the Organic Law on Comprehensive Drug Prevention, which could decriminalize drugs like marijuana.
Ecuador’s National Assembly is currently debating the Organic Law on Comprehensive Drug Prevention, which could decriminalize drugs like marijuana. (High Times)

EspañolEcuador may be on the verge of a landmark shift in drug policy, as legislators debate the newly proposed Organic Law on Comprehensive Drug Prevention. The initiative, promoted by the ruling party PAIS Alliance, opens the door for legalization, and could spell the beginning of the end for the War on Drugs in Ecuador.

The PanAm Post spoke with Gabriel Buitrón, spokesman for Cannabis Ecuador (Ecuador Cannábico), an organization founded in 2008 for the purpose of studying marijuana and providing information on its various uses to Ecuadorian society. For the last six years, they have organized the Global Marijuana March in Quito, and have been very vocal about the bill currently being discussed in the National Assembly.

What does Cannabis Ecuador make of the Organic Law on Comprehensive Drug Prevention?

We found the first draft of the Health Commission’s bill to be quite incomplete. We made suggestions, and some of them were taken into account. We believe we are obviously moving forward on the issue of drugs in this country, but the current law being discussed is still insufficient.

Why is it lacking?

We believe the prevention component should be much broader. The law should provide logical and well-structured avenues, so the public knows what institutions are in charge of rehabilitation and what their responsibilities are. This should be framed in constitutional law, and in the Penal Code (COIP), so that the idea that cannabis users are not subject to criminalization or penalty is enforced.

The bill mentions the information component, but it should include which institution will be responsible for providing it, and what is it going to say about the substances in the future. Moreover, we believe that the substances should not be commercialized, but rather be distributed — even for free — by the public-health system, through the national pharmaceutical industry, after an appropriate research is conducted.

This initiative is meant to move away from prohibition and the War on Drugs. What do you think about this?

As for the War on Drugs, it’s not only us, but various national and international organizations have declared it a total failure. It is completely unworkable, and has only caused more violence. Drug trafficking has had detrimental effects on users and the most vulnerable people in the country. We are against prohibition and in favor of information.

That is what Cannabis Ecuador has tried to do all these years. Informing lawmakers is part of our role as a civil-society group. Even though they are drafting a law that is relatively open with regard to the regulation of these substances, they are still quite ignorant on the topic.

How does drug trafficking affect us as a country?

Figures in Ecuador show that we are not a producer country, and we are also not a consumer country either. This means that the figures regarding substance use are quite low across all ages, although there are many people who are alarmists when it comes to drug use in the country.

Therefore, we can prevent what has happened in other countries, such as high-consumption rates among adolescents, and the collateral damage from drug trafficking, such as violence, organized crime, human trafficking, etc. All of this, with a policy of comprehensive regulation of these substances.

“The only sovereign limits are those of the body. I decide what and when I responsibly use.”

What do you mean by comprehensive regulation?

I mean one that does not see the drug problem from only the consumption or production sides, which is another observation we made with this bill, because it only addresses the subject from the perspective of problematic substance use.

We must not think of drugs in these terms and understand that they can be used to produce medicine. We must prevent problematic drug use, and to do that we need to reduce the risk involved in comsuming these substances.

The issue must be addressed holistically, so that all people who are consuming drugs can receive help. Because if we are sure of anything, it is that with or without prohibition, there will always be drug users and consumers.

The bottom line then is that users must be protected in all possible ways, especially in terms of their rights. And that’s another failure of this bill, since consumers are seen only as subjects of control, when we are actually subjects of law, and our rights must be guaranteed by the Ecuadorian state.

“#UNASUR We want integration to address the issue of drugs. Uruguay has already taken steps, but our proposal may be more advanced.”

During the first debate in the National Assembly, some legislators mentioned that this bill would legalize marijuana, and said Ecuador should follow Uruguay’s example. What do you think about this?

We believe that this law is trying to legalize many aspects of marijuana. However, Cannabis Ecuador’s proposal was never about marijuana legalization, but rather comprehensive regularization and decriminalization of its use, cultivation, and production.

Decriminalization is not necessarily about regularizing the market. Article 222 of the COIP states that cannabis crops that do not have commercial purposes should not be penalized.

What we want is to get marijuana out of the market, whether it is the legal one, or the illegal one. What happened with alcohol was that the market was initially controlled by illegal mafias, and then put in the hands of legal mafias. We do not want that for cannabis.

Regarding Uruguay, we believe that we should not follow this example. It’s definitely a landmark case that provides us with a political and a legal framework; it gives us a background, but we must find our own way. We should use it as a reference, but not as the path that we should take. We need our own Drug Act, not only for cannabis, but for other substances.

If you do not agree with the commercialization of cannabis, what do you propose?

We propose personal cultivation, group cultivation, and the popular and solidarity economy. For users who do not cultivate, the state should guarantee a certain dosage, outside of the market, that is distributed at no cost through the public-health system.

Several countries have done this. In Portugal, they have been conducting an experiment for more than a decade now. They decriminalized all substances and the state delivers free doses to problematic users. This has greatly reduced several social indicators related to dependency, violence, and crime.

Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

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