Introduction

Ecuador has never been a major producer or trafficker of illegal drugs. As one scholar has stated while Ecuador has become an important transit country for illicit drugs, precursor chemicals, and for money laundering, the illicit drug trade has not been perceived as a major threat to the country’s national security (Edwards S., ‘A short history of Ecuador’s drug legislation and the impact on its prison population’ in Systems Overload – Drug laws and prisons in Latin America).  In spite of this fact, the country has had one of the most prohibitionist and draconian drug policies throughout the whole of Latin America (http://reformdrugpolicy.com/beckley-main-content/new-approaches/future-directions-for-drug-policy-reform/latin-america/ecuador-2/#sthash.g63NTlW3.dpuf).

Even though the country has not been the center of drug problems, such as its neighbors Peru, Bolivia and Colombia, beginning at the end of the 1980s Ecuadorean drug policy began to give law enforcement a greater role in drug policy; for example the 1987 ‘Law of Control and Intervention in the Trafficking of Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances’ implemented harsh penalties for those convicted of drug offenses, including imprisonment of between 12 and 16 years for producing or trafficking certain substances.

Not surprisingly, under great pressure from the US, Ley 108, Ecuador’s ‘Law on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances’, was approved in 1991.  This law was not developed with any regard for domestic realities, but instead to gain significant US aid and no doubt allow the CIA and other drug-trafficking agencies to promote and fund their devious plans for Latin America, as they did with Plan Colombia which allowed the CIA and US military to adopt a ‘War on Drugs’ that was really a war on civilian dissent, unions and protest.

The ‘war on drugs’ was and is part of the US military government’s push to actually expand and control drug production and distribution.  In 1986 President Reagan signed a directive acknowledging drugs as a national security threat.  In the summer of 1989, George Bush followed this precedent with a secret National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) expanding the role of military forces in combatting the drug trade in Latin America.  In addition, he increased financial aid, equipment and training for the military police of the Andean countries, which includes Ecuador.

Defense Secretary at the time, Dick Cheney, then branded drugs a “direct threat to the sovereignty and security of our country (US)” (Washington Post Weekly, September 18-24, 1989) ).  He then ordered commanders to develop specific plans for “operational support” of anti-drug missions in Latin America to ensure “a more agressive and robust” US military presence in the Andes (Los Angeles Times, December 15, 1989; Baltimore Sun, December 19, 1989).  Narco-terrorism was now hatched as the new threat to the US.

This was convenient for many reasons: 1). it assured a lasting presence and reason for the US military and, 2). it allowedthe CIA and the US military to run counter insurgency policies ‘off the books’, using drug money to fund illegal wars in Latin America as prohibitions on running wars remained a threat to the US military’s existence.

Thus, not surprisingly, the result was that Ecuadorian government was forced to implement Ley 108, which according to one scholar is an extremely punitive law, entailing sentences disproportionate to the offense, contradicting due process guarantees, and violating the constitutional rights of the accused.  Focusing on enforcement, drug policy efficacy was now to be measured according to how many citizens were imprisoned on drug charges.   The more drug offenders imprisoned, the better the drug policy, Ecuadorians were told.  The consequence, as in the US the largest prison country in the world with a prison population of over 2.2 million, was overcrowded Ecuadorian prisons and jails.

Ecuador changes course

This is now all changing.  In June of this year high profile Ecuadorian government officials in a number of departments have called the war against drugs a failure and have said that the next move the country must make is to regulate and control the sale of some drugs.

Alexis Mera, the presidency’s legal secretary, said in June that “absolute repression has not worked:

“Drug consumption” of some substances such as marijuana “needs to instead be regulated” (http://www.telegrafo.com.ec/english-bulletin/item/ecuador-could-regulate-drug-sales.html).

The next government-aligned organism to hint at a change in policy was the narcotics agency.  The National Council of Narcotics Control (CONSEP) believes the government should decriminalize, control and tax the sale of drugs, according to one of its directors.

CONSEP’s eastern director, Jimena Fernandez, says the new Ecuadorian Criminal Code will need to determine what quantities a person can carry as a consumer.

The CONSEP established, at their latest general meeting, that the following quantities be considered the maximum consumer amounts:

10 grams of marijuana or hash, 4 grams of opiates, 100 milligrams of heroin, 5 grams of cocaine, 0.020 milligrams of LSD, and 80 milligrams of methamphetamine or MDMA (ibid).

In a surprise statement, even the hard-nosed, tough-on-crime Minister of the Interior, José Serrano, who has been at the head of the department as it has coordinated a record number of drug seizures and cartel arrests, called for sweeping drug decriminalization.

Under Serrano’s direction, since the beginning of 2013, Ecuadorian police have confiscated a total of 19.2 tons of drugs, 368,575 grams of which were marijuana.  The most confiscated narcotic has been cocaine: a total of 15 thousand grams were seized. Authorities also confiscated 1,175 grams of cocaine base paste, 37.7 grams of heroin and .05 grams of ecstasy.

Serrano spoke during a radio interview in June of this year stating:

“The global war on drugs has failed,” and “clear public policy needs to be established to combat addiction. Then, a process of drug decriminalization should start” (http://www.telegrafo.com.ec/english-bulletin/item/ecuador-could-regulate-drug-sales.html).

With this sentiment, the US now will find their ability to wage war on Latin American dissidents more difficult, for their source of funds, illegal drugs, is now drying up.

Cannabis Decriminalized in June 2013

And, so it was to be and so it is today: in the middle of June, Ecuador became one of the few countries in the world where consuming marijuana has been officially decriminalized. The government’s Substance Control Council published a table of legal carrying amounts for narcotics and established by law: now, anyone carrying 10 grams of marijuana or less is considered a consumer and not a dealer, and therefore will not be arrested (http://www.telegrafo.com.ec/noticias/sociedad/item/grupo-pro-cannabis-plantea-produccion-personal-de-hierba.html).

Cannabis advocates say the move is positive, but more needs to be done to make marijuana a legal substance, not just a decriminalized one.

Gabriel Buitrón, founder of Ecuador Canábico, stated following the decree:

“The drug problem isn’t consumers: it’s the black market, which generates violence, human trafficking, and the highest murder rate in Latin America” (http://www.telegrafo.com.ec/english-bulletin/item/marijuana-decriminalized-but-not-yet-legal.html).

However, he says the law needs to go farther to protect people who grow marijuana for personal use.  In Spain, he pointed to the fact that cannabis consumers can form cooperatives to grow enough plants for the collective, but nothing more.

Other members of cannabis advocacy groups in Guayaquil, Ecuador agree, saying that the plant’s agricultural, medicinal, and textile uses should be explored.

However not all Ecuadorians agree.  Years of propaganda has many thinking that cannabis is both a gateway drug and one that causes medical problems and corrupts youth (ibid).  Yet even North Korea, the demonized dictatorship, allows for legal cannabis possession, sale, transport and cultivation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legality_of_cannabis_by_country).

Serrano and other advocates of drug decriminalization are not alone in their rejection of the phony war on drugs.  It has been shown that in Portugal, where marijuana and other drugs have been decriminalized since 2001, drug consumption rates actually fell. The same thing happened in Uruguay, where the country poses a fairly broad regulation on marijuana that not only regulates trade and the production of the ‘herb’, but also the distribution and supply of cannabis (http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/evaluating-drug-decriminalization-in-portugal-12-years-later-a-891060.html).

With this June’s decriminalization of marijuana, Buitrón says the Ecuador Canábico collective will respond by working on a policy paper promoting the controlled production, distribution and storage of the cannabis plant for exclusive use in Ecuador. He says he will present the National Assembly with a draft of the policy paper in time for proposed amendments to Ecuador’s criminal code, expected later this year.

For a detailed country by country look at the legality of cannabis go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legality_of_cannabis_by_country