(Reuters) - After four decades of zero-tolerance drug policies promoted by the United States, many Latin American countries say the war on drugs has failed and are adopting more permissive drug laws, including the decriminalization of personal use.
The so-called harm reduction approach is meant to decongest overwhelmed courts and prisons, emphasize treatment for drug users, and use law enforcement resources to chase major traffickers instead of small-time dealers.
Here is an outline of the drugs war and policy reforms in key Latin American countries:
* Argentina is one of Latin America’s biggest drug-consuming countries, with 2.6 percent of the population using cocaine each year, approaching the 3 percent level in the United States.
* In August, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to prosecute anyone for possessing drugs for personal use.
* A high-level commission has drafted new drug laws legalizing possession of small quantities of drugs and mandating treatment for users. The president is expected to present the reform bill to Congress in 2010.
* Bolivia is the No. 3 global cocaine producer after Peru and Colombia. Chewing and other traditional uses of coca leaf, a mild stimulant, are legal.
* President Evo Morales has asked the United Nations to abolish the narcotics label for coca, which is also the active ingredient of cocaine. However, Bolivia has harsh sentences for other drug use as well as small-scale distribution.
* Partial decriminalization after reforms in 2002 and 2006.
* Personal use remains punishable but prison sentences are replaced by educational measures and community service.
* Colombia is the world’s No. 1 cocaine producer.
* In 1994, the Constitutional Court declared punishment for personal drug use unconstitutional, but in December 2009, Congress amended the law to again make consumption illegal.
* Partially decriminalized personal drug use in private in 2007. An expert commission convened in 2009 to study possible further decriminalization.
* Punishes public consumption with fines, forced treatment, and community service. In some cases, also suspension of driving licenses.
* Prison sentences are high (1-5 years) if a judge determines drugs were for dealing, not consumption.
* A 2008 pardon freed more than 2,000 drug couriers convicted of carrying less than two kilos and who had spent a year in prison. The pardon defined “mules” as victims of drug traffickers.
* A section in the 2008 constitution says drug use should not be criminalized and that drugs should be seen as a health problem, opening the door for larger reforms.
* Decriminalized possession of up to 5 grams (0.18 ounces) of marijuana, 500 milligrans (0.018 ounces) of cocaine and small quantities of other drugs for personal use.
* The new drug law passed by Congress in April 2009 also allows Mexican states to convict small-time drug dealers, no longer making it a federal crime to peddle narcotics, a move aimed at speeding up those cases.
* Addicts enter mandatory treatment after their third arrest.
* Personal use only for certified dependent users.
* Coca leaf consumption has never been criminalized.
* Possession for personal use was never criminalized.
* A 1974 law leaves it to a judge’s discretion whether the amount in possession was for dealing or for personal use.
* Possession for personal use remains a crime but prison sentences are replaced by community service for possession of up to two grams of caine and 20 grams of cannabis.
United Nations World Drug Report 2008
Reporting by Luis Andres Henao; Editing by Fiona Ortiz