WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
13 May 2010 | Commentary

Drug Law Reform in Ecuador

WOLA and TNI would like to share our latest memo entitled "Drug Law Reform in Ecuador: Building Momentum for a More Effective, Balanced and Realistic Approach."

Across the hemisphere, frustration is growing with the failure of the "war on drugs." Many Latin American countries face rising rates of drug consumption, despite harsh drug laws that have left prisons bursting at the seams.  Typically, users and low-level dealers bear the brunt of the sanctions, while high-level actors with money and power carry on with impunity.  In response, numerous countries are exploring alternative policies.  For example, in August 2009, Mexico enacted a law decriminalizing the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use.  That same month, the Argentine Supreme Court determined that imposing criminal sanctions for the possession of drugs for personal use is unconstitutional, a ruling that paves the way for pending legislation that would decriminalize the possession of all illicit drugs for personal consumption.  Brazilian officials are working on reforms that would advance legislative changes in 2002 and 2006 that partially decriminalize possession of drugs for personal use. In short, an incipient drug law reform movement appears to be gaining traction across the region and even in the United States.

In Ecuador, the Correa government's comprehensive justice sector reform project includes significant changes in drug legislation.  The country has one of the most punitive drug laws in the hemisphere.  In a perversion of justice, those accused of drug offenses are assumed guilty unless they can prove their innocence, mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines ensure excessively long sentences and arrest quotas have led to the imprisonment of growing numbers of those at the lowest end of the drug trafficking trade.  By 2008, Ecuador's justice system had reached a breaking point, overwhelmed by huge caseloads of drug-related offenses, and prisons were bursting at the seams.  The need for significant reforms was painfully clear.  This brief explains why and how the Ecuadorian government arrived at its decision to undertake significant drug law reform and how, if implemented successfully, those reforms could result in more effective, just and humane national drug control policies, setting an example for the rest of the region.

Click here to read the full memo.