Summary of the 13th National Conference on Drug Policy

“Accompany. Don’t punish”

The phrase refers to drug users and is the adaptation of the global campaign #supportdontpunish that Intercambios made as part of the local actions. In essence, it sums up the conclusions of the discussions held in the different panels of this new edition of the National Conference on Drug Policy.

More than four hundred participants of various parts of the country came to the Senate of the City of Buenos Aires to attend presentations and discussions with government officials, academics and specialists; along with civil society organizations and activists. Organized by Intercambios Civil Association for the thirteenth consecutive year, and as part of the  institution’s 20th anniversary celebration, the Conference continues to be a necessary space for debate.

“Defederalize drug competencies is a thorny issue”

In the opening ceremony, the Minister of Security of the Nation María Cecilia Rodriguez recognized the complexity of the disputed Law of Defederalization. The Minister said that “defederalize drug competencies (in the Judiciary) is a thorny issue due to the complexity of the crime, which is cross-border and related to other crimes such as human trafficking.”  She further explained that “finding a way to disarm trafficking networks involves a multiagency effort” and made it clear that “persecuting the small dealers has little effect when disbanding drug trafficking networks.” Finally, she emphasized a “greater presence and coordination with the judicial system, and all kinds of technologies for recognizing illegal substances.”

Meanwhile, Gabriel Lerner, brand new Secretary of the Secretariat of Planning for the Prevention of Drug Addiction and Fight against Drug Trafficking (SEDRONAR) stressed that “social policies should avoid criminalizing substance users” explaining that “there were issues redesign within the State, but the law must be reformed.”

He also discussed the international framework ahead of the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) 2016. In this regard, he referred to the Uruguayan experience: “Uruguay has taken its own, creative way, and has to stand before the world and say we are entitled to this policy; that’s why context is important.” “Toward UNGASS 2016 there is a tension between the conventions and treaties on human rights” and on that subject concluded that “there is no discussion in the preeminence of human rights agreements.”

Regarding the local level, he said “progress has been made in the detection of precursor chemicals that enable production.” He also noted that “questions like the ones made by Intercambios have had moments of reception and others of insulation. Not always have they been received or heard. I want to acknowledge that task. “

Intercambios Civil Association’s President Graciela Touzé said that “the current drug policy approach, focusing mostly on repressive policies, is what generates greater breakdown of social ties, marginalization, stigma and discrimination”.

Furthermore, with reference to the global campaign #supportdontpunish, she said that “Accompany. Don’t punish is our motto so that more civil society organizations have a greater role and a more recognized voice by the States of the drug policy board”; that “Accompany. Don’t punish is expressed in a letter signed by Intercambios together with a broad coalition of over 100 organizations for the United Nations to respect countries that deviate from the prohibitionist paradigm”; that “Accompany. Don’t punish in Argentina is to reiterate the demand for decriminalization of drug possession and self-cultivation for personal consumption”; and “Accompany. Don’t punish in Argentina is insisting on the full implementation of the National Mental Health Act and continue to claim a firm commitment to a harm reduction approach” among other claims as the proportionality of the penalties for drug-related offenses and the incorporation of a gender perspective.

“To discuss the decriminalization”

Finally, National deputy Horacio Pietragalla Corti, 1st Vice-president of the Commission of addiction prevention and drug trafficking control, said that “we try to talk about all the problems that consumption or an addiction can cause to a person. We have a long way to go but we are on that road, it is a great challenge.” On current laws he remarked that “we need to discuss the decriminalization”. “They cannot detain one more kid; torture another, because of substance use. The Arriola rulling is not enough; we must unify criteria so that the forces cannot abuse their power. “

The voice of people who use drugs

Also in the opening ceremony was Veronica Russo, representative of the Movement of people who use drugs, who demanded new thoughtful answers “from the respect for differences and human rights and from an inclusive health policy that can resolve or at least reduce the problems and the harms associated with drug use, rather than increasing them.” In this regard, she called for the repeal of article 14 of the current Law 23,737 and the creation of a National Plan to Assist Drug Users with a “real incorporation of a harm reduction policy”.

Conference “UNGASS 2016: a turning point in international drug policy?”

“What is at issue is the prohibition”

Argentine Guillermo Aureano who is Lecturer and Internship Coordinator within the Department of Political Science of the Université de Montréal came to Buenos Aires for this 13th Conference and discussed the possibilities given by the United Nations’ call for a Special Session of the General Assembly devoted exclusively to the world drug problem next year.

“The issue is to ask ourselves whether there will be a change in drug policy in the next UNGASS in April 2016,” said Aureano at the beginning of his presentation. After explaining what the UNGASS is, he said that “there has been a repositioning of American diplomacy in the drug issue, which allows a greater tolerance for alternative policies.” “Also UN’s lock has loosened up and is Latin America who plays the leading role with the Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala triad.” But he said: “They do not make a specific proposal, it is hard to formulate a consensual alternative, there is a void, and no plan of action is reformulated”.

Criticism everywhere

Aureano highlighted the amount of protests to the current drug policies, but little impact on the concrete facts. “The protests are not only at the UN but in a dispersed manner and worldwide. Bolivia withdrew from the convention to reform its coca leaves policy, Uruguay ignored the United Nations to regulate the cannabis market and former President Mujica called anti-drug representatives liars.” “The changes are very slow and the protests, timid.” “What is at issue is the prohibition as only policy and calling for an inclusive and transparent dialogue,” he said. “The criticisms are what the United Nations is afraid of, the counterproductive effects of prohibition cannot remain hidden”; “Anti-drug policies have done more harm than consumption itself”.

UNGASS 2016: What can you expect?

Aureano was skeptical about the window of opportunity for change that opens the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. “The call is similar to that of 98, a balanced approach is that the South and North must work together; this is a speech that officials handle well, but it does not mean that the users’ voices are heard nor farmers can participate.” “The world drug problem does not exist, is not the same being a consumer or an opium grower in Afghanistan that a cannabis cultivator in California.” “The international classification of drugs is completely unreasonable,” he said.

The table was moderated by Pablo Cymerman, Coordinator of the Institutional Relations Area of Intercambios Civil Association.

Panel: The postponed debate of the law 23,737 reform. Impacts of its implementation.

“The orientation to criminalize possession for consumption is a reality”

The Narcotics Law 23,737 has been questioned by different actors, and the Supreme Court of Justice itself, which in 2009 declared the criminalization of possession for personal use unconstitutional. Various participants and experts debated on the matter.

Laurana Malacalza, Coordinator of the Gender Violence Observatory of the Buenos Aires Province Ombudsman, described the impact of the law 23,737 and defederalization on women and the transsexual and transvestites population. She highlighted how the criminalization for drug offenses of these groups increased since its implementation. In this regard, she stressed that “in 2004, before the defederalization, the number of women arrested for drug offenses in the Buenos Aires Province was 634, and in 2007, when the defederalization was already in full force, that figure amounted to 780 and many of the processed women never have contact with their defenders.” “These women are mostly adults; heads of household, with children. It is a crime with strong domestic territorial roots and maintains certain characteristic of the place of women in the social and community structure.”

For its part, Mercedes Crespi Official Public Defender before the Federal Courts of First and Second Instance of Cordoba, talked about the situation in Cordoba and how the defederalization influenced the prosecution of crimes of possession of small quantities of drugs. To do this, she shared the example of a person who was sentenced to 5 and a half years for possession of 40 grams of marijuana; “The outlook is grim, there are no voices against this in the province.” In this sense, the defender stressed the impacts regarding the defederalization in that province where “the situation is chaotic” and she called “normative fetishism” to the fact that laws are reformed without a “real conviction to change something.”

Mario Juliano, Judge of the Criminal Court 1 of Necochea, Executive Director of the Pensamiento Penal Association, said that “the defederalization concerns us the orientation to criminalize possession for consumption is a reality. It leads us to question the criminal justice system as an alternative for this type of conflict, an extreme selectivity has developed, the tendency is to deal with cases that are less important and have easy resolution.” He also acknowledged that “as criminal judge I cannot agree more with Intercambios on how to address conflicts, I think the path is to dismantle the business, that is to say, legalization.”

The discussion leader was Mariano Gutiérrez, professor at the Crime and Society Chair of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires, who asked to reflect on prohibitionist policies asking “What gives them such strength? What is built from them?” He also argued that the reform of law 23,737 is important because it “would serve as an articulator for a shift towards a new approach to drug use, and change the political discourse on this phenomenon”.

The panel was moderated by Alejandro Corda, member of the Research Area of Intercambios Civil Association.

Panel: Among the institutional and the territorial: joints, fractures, tensions in the intervention scenarios.

“Almost anyone can draw a map of how drugs circulate in the neighborhoods”

Youth, violence and drugs are complex phenomena that make up a network of relationships that determines the ways of inhabiting the institutions and the territories. The speakers, representatives from both the institutional and the territorial work, lectured on how these relations are built and which are the joints, fractures and tensions.

The first speaker was Salvador Antonio Tesolini, Director of the Andrés Program in Rosario, Province of Santa Fe, who reflected from his experience in territorial work and emphasized the use of concepts, said that “when speaking of addiction, far from giving complexity to the approach, that concept contributes to the functionality of the social segregation logic. It is a way of scapegoat people who use drugs attributing them the contamination of society in order to think of ways to destroy them”. “Historically society is inclined to look for the carriers of all evil,” he said.

Then it was Mariana Chaves‘ turn, teacher and researcher at the Center for Socio-Cultural Studies, Faculty of Social Work, National University of La Plata and the National University of Tres de Febrero, who presented a series of phrases of young people collected in her territorial work, from which she proposed to reflect, for example, “to buy something at a store I have to walk like 3 blocks, but I have three dealers on my block to buy drugs.” From there she explained that “almost anyone can draw a map and say how drugs circulate in the neighborhoods. Ignorance is a hypocritical speech.”

She also stressed the role of “axes that break up lives” as “lack of work, interrupted schooling, social and institutional violence, with preeminence of the security forces, and neighborhood and domestic violence”.

On the other hand, she stressed the need for a territorial approach: “No approach can be done without resources or lack of physical space, nor underpaid workers.”

“Against their will”

abarcalaAlejandra Barcala, Coordinator of the support interdisciplinary team of the Lawyers unit of the article 22 of the Law 26,657 of the Public Defender’s Office, explained that “the National Mental Health Law attempts to break a tutelary paradigm and exchange it for a rights based one, that recognizes the voices of users and their families ” and clarified that “raises political and social responsibilities”.

She also showed the work of the interdisciplinary team of the Public Defender’s Office, which “provides advocacy to individuals who are institutionalized against their will” and told: “we found people that were not explained about their treatment, that cannot talk to their family, the confinement is naturalized. In three years we have more than 10,000 views, so we can confirm that there are many people institutionalized against their will in the City of Buenos Aires”.

The discussion leader was Gabriel Kessler, CONICET researcher and professor at the National University of General Sarmiento, posing a criticism that has to be given from the social sciences: “We accompany the anti-punitive speech but we do not star in it. We do not contribute to demystify existing ideas about drugs, to separate the problematic from the non problematic drug use. Many of us have close experience to a non problematic use but we do not question it”. He explained that it has to do in part with the fact that “we have a legal problem” but said that “we all have an unresolved situation regarding the drug issue.”

The panel was moderated by Maria Pia Pawlowicz, member of the Research and Outreach Areas of Intercambios Civil Association.

Conference “Colombia’s Drug policy in international debates”

 “The people should be at the center of drug policies”

 The Colombian government has been one of the first to question in regional forums the violence generated by the hitherto prevailing repressive approach to the “war on drugs”, being one of the countries that has suffered its consequences the most. Paola Claudia Salcedo Vasquez, Coordinator of the International Affairs Area of the Anti-Drug Policy and Related Activities Office of the Ministry of Justice and Law of Colombia, talked about these issues.

One of the most powerful measures in recent years was the suspension of fumigation with glyphosate. In this regard the official explained that “in 2003, 86,000 hectares planted with coca were reported in Colombia and it was decided to resort to aerial spraying with glyphosate to finish them. In the twelve years that have passed since then, a million and a half hectares have been sprinkled, and it appears that according to the latest measures, there are still some 64,000 hectares of coca in the country.” And she said that “A destruction of crops policy is not sustainable over time; and it’s not because it does not offer small farmers an alternative lifestyle. The small coca grower who has its plants destroyed without an offering of anything in return, does not abandon that activity. Instead seeks to continue it in a different place, preferably in places where the State has difficulties fumigating”.

On the other hand, she analyzed the international scenario and made it clear that “in the current debate, Colombia has acknowledged that the people and the protection of their rights and freedoms should be at the center of drug policies.” And she added that “drug policy in the context of the current regime of drug control and under the application of repressive interventions has increased the users’ vulnerability, moving away from health services and the safety net of the State”.

Diana Rossi, Coordinator of the Research Area of Intercambios Civil Association, moderated the table.

The 13th National Conference on Drug Policy was held with the sponsorship of Open Society Foundations and the Senate of Argentina and had the support of 20 institutions from the governmental and academic fields; and civil society and intergovernmental organizations.