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October 25, 2014
Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A debate which awaits

Among everything else going on there is also the bill to decriminalize personal drug use and thus reform the current legislation punishing drug possession in any form — a bill reportedly being prepared by the corresponding authorities and confirmed at least to the extent of Lower House Majority Leader Juliana Di Tullio (as well as her predecessor, the current Defence Minister Agustín Rossi) urging the necessary debate on this controversial issue. Such an initiative would be far from being a local eccentricity — just looking across the River Plate, it is taking a leaf out of the book of Uruguay which legalized cannabis late last year (even if the legislation only came into effect in the last few months) while worldwide the question is increasingly being asked whether the eternal war against drug-trafficking is not simply counterproductive. Here the obvious historic parallel is with the Prohibitionism experiment in the United States from 1920 to 1933, which did far more to boost organized crime than to stop people drinking alcohol.

Yet such comparisons should not underestimate the negative impact of either alcohol or drugs. It is easy to ridicule US Prohibitionism in hindsight but excess alcohol can be as devastating as even the hardest drugs, never mind cannabis (we need look no further than such recent news items as the drunken driver who killed a three-year-old boy on the General Paz ring road last week or the apparent suicide of the Hollywood comic actor Robin Williams). In its time US Prohibitionism largely resulted from the lobbying of feminist organizations who gave stamping out alcohol (the 18th Amendment) an even higher priority than their own vote (the 19th Amendment). Equally the uphill struggle against drug-trafficking should not blind us to how addiction can shatter lives. Uruguay’s interesting experiment is a work in progress — opinion polls show some 60 percent expressing misgivings and President José Mujica has said that the initiative is not irreversible in the face of majority disapproval.

There is no evidence that this issue has any urgency now but this is a debate which must come sooner or later, as it already has in much of the world. Whatever the doubts about the new approaches, the old methods against drug-trafficking have been in use long enough without any decisive success, thus warranting a fresh look at the problem which neither cracks down indiscriminately against drug lords and users alike nor downplays the growing dangers.

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