It’s official. Argentina has decriminalized the consumption and possession of small amounts of narcotics. But how did this decision come about? And what does it really mean? Will travelers to Argentina now enjoy spliffs served in corner coffee shops, as they may in Amsterdam? To set you straight, here’s the skinny on this new development as it stands, and the word on what may come about in the near future.
As reported by the Associated Press, yesterday (August 25, 2009) the Argentine Supreme Court made a decision that struck down a law regarding prison sentences for the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. The ruling was issued in a case involving a group of young men who had been caught in possession of several joints.
The court reached their ruling after taking into account a passage from the Argentine Constitution which states that, “each adult individual is sovereign to make free decisions about the lifestyle he or she desires without the state’s being able to interfere in that ambit.” Within the text of the court’s official ruling, the unanimous decision of the cabinet members urged that, “It is not acceptable to penalize private conduct that does not cause danger or damage to third parties.”
Before booking your tickets to Argentina for a no-holds-barred smoke out, however, heed this warning. Although the ruling does strike down a law concerning all narcotics (and not just pot), the decision does not legalize the possession and private consumption of drugs outright. The ruling has decriminalized only the private consumption of narcotics by adults, on the condition that said possession and consumption does not infringe upon the health, property or rights of any third party.
This decision is in concordance with previous statements made by Argentine President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner. President Fernandez has been encouraging the Argentine National Congress to pass similar legislation for well over a year now. The Congress has been awaiting this Supreme Court decision before moving forward with its own actions.
Although the draft of the upcoming legislation has not yet been made public, it is expected that the new law will involve two principal legal shifts. First, the possession and consumption of small amounts of narcotics will be decriminalized. In exchange, the government will publicly fund drug treatment programs for minor offenders and addicts, much like other nations, including the Netherlands and Spain. Second, by freeing up enforcement and judicial authorities from the persecution of minor offenders, this legislation will likely mandate the more forceful prosecution of drug traffickers. President Fernandez has stated that congressional action should be anticipated before year’s end.
In short, those visiting or living in Buenos Aires can still expect to get in trouble for smoking a doobie in public places, including parks, concerts and night clubs. At least for the time being, Buenos Aires will not be converting itself into the Amsterdam of South America, but stay tuned for further developments in this story.
Interested? Read more from the following sources:
“Argentine Court Just Says No to Prison for Pot Use,” Associated Press (25 August 2009): http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/08/25/world/AP-LT-Argentina-Marijuana.html?scp=3&sq=argentina%20marijuana&st=cse
“Argentine President Calls for Decriminalization of Drug Use,” CNN.com (1 August 2008): http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/americas/08/01/argentina.drugs/index.html
“Supreme Court unveils awaited ruling: SC rules personal marijuana use punishment unconstitutional,” The Buenos Aires Herald (25 August 2009): http://www.buenosairesherald.com/BreakingNews/View/10082
William Chambliss, “Another Lost War: The Costs and Consequences of Drug Prohibition,” Social Justice 22, no. 2 (Summer 1995): p.101-.