In a disappointing move, Ecuador increased penalties for small-scale drug sellers yesterday, reversing reforms approved last year that differentiated between possession of small amounts of drugs and larger quantities with intent to sell, where there had previously been no differentiation. However, yesterday the National Assembly voted to modify the criminal code and toughen penalties once again.
The vote took place after Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that small-scale sellers (or “microtraffickers”) were “poisoning the population.” “Do we want to end drug use in youth? We have to jail microtraffickers (…) I have called for higher sanctions for microtraffickers,” President Correa said in September, calling this measure “preventative prison.”
“Ecuador’s backtracking on drug policy reform is extremely disappointing,” says Hannah Hetzer, Senior Policy Manager of the Americas for the Drug Policy Alliance. “This won’t do anything to protect youth from drug use, while filling Ecuadorian prisons with people – mostly women – who are often forced into the drug trade, either out of violence or economic necessity.”
Yesterday’s modifications raised the penalties for sale of “small quantities” of certain drugs from 2 to 6 months to 1 to 3 years in prison and for “medium-scale trafficking” from 1 to 3 years to 3 to 5 years.
Increasingly, Latin American policymakers are speaking out against prohibition and are highlighting its devastating effects on the hemisphere. Uruguay became the first country to legalize marijuana in 2013, and leaders such as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos have called for alternatives to the war-on-drugs approach.
“The 2014 reforms were an important step forward in making the criminal justice system fairer and led to the release of over 2,200 people from prison,” said Hannah Hetzer. “At a time when the United States and countries in Latin America are taking meaningful steps towards criminal justice reform, it’s sad to see Ecuador going backwards.”