Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ecuador A Drug Policy Leader

By James E. Gierach, Palos Park, IL, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)

Dear Editor:

In 1994, the Swiss started a heroin maintenance program for addicted drug users (only) that was so successful in improving the health of addicts and stopping crime that the program was sent to the World Health Organization for study and, in 2008 Swiss voters agreed by referendum to continue the successful heroin maintenance program.

In 2000, the Portuguese decriminalized the possession of small quantities of all drugs for personal consumption, recognizing the limits of power and government’s inability to stop people from consuming drugs by outlawing them. The result – rather than crime and drug use increasing, it decreased.

In the 1970s, Hollanders decided to make marijuana, the world’s most popular illegal drug with over a hundred million users worldwide annually (, de facto legal through tolerance of its now world-famous “coffee shops.” The result – as intended, the plan successfully separated “hard” and “soft” drug markets with significantly lower rates of drug use than in the U.S. On the other hand in the U.S., zero-tolerant prohibition of all drug use (hard and soft) turned out to be the “gateway” to dreaded polydrug use and higher rates of drug use.

In 2009, Bolivians exercising democratic prerogatives adopted a new constitution that afforded constitutional protection of its hallowed cultural, medicinal and historic use of the coca leaf for millenniums (coca leaf is also the prime ingredient of cocaine, powder and crack) in the high Andean country, despite being a signatory to the United Nations 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. That convention outlaws the coca plant, heroin and marijuana and farcically includes all three in Schedule I of outlawed drugs with high potential for abuse and supposedly no medicinal value. However, as of 2014 marijuana is legal in Colorado and the state of Washington, the country of Uruguay, and 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia say marijuana is medicine.

And now in 2014, Ecuadorians have disavowed the popular U.S. practice of “policing for profit,” where seized drug property and profits are plowed back into the drug-war machine, feeding law-enforcement in terms of police hiring, salaries, overtime, equipment, vehicles and buildings. Instead, Ecuador is impounding drug dealer assets and land and using the plunder to support poor and vulnerable communities with jobs for residents through development of sustainable economic projects as an alternative to illicit drug cultivation, processing and transit.

Meeting with the drug czar of Ecuador Rodrigo VĂ©lez and ten members of the international press from Colombia, Guatemala, Uruguay, Cuba, Ecuador and Canada and seeing those Ecuadorean projects personally last month confirms the vitality of its efforts. One shrimp farm is providing jobs and generating $80,000 every four months while a high-tech program tracks 1,805 private companies that purchase, ship, use and account for precursor drug products in real time. The press and I also inspected an operating community, corn-farm alternative.

My four-day adventure to beautiful Ecuador gave me hope for drug policy reform, a sober society, viable community crop-substitution programs, control of precursor chemicals and the possibility of approval of a UN drug prohibition treaty amendment that would end the failed war on drugs and restore peace, health and freedom while reducing the harm of drugs and the war on drugs.

(originally published by The Regional News May 7, 2014)

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