Por Yuls Pin

The deterioration of rights in Latin America, particularly with regard to drug use, but also of civil rights in general, is a result of the triumph of right-wing politicians in the region. Recent setbacks should make us reflect on the cultural and legal gains of the past few decades that will begin to erode with the imposition of criminalization and repression.


The most emblematic countries — including Argentina, with its “anti-political” figures such as Mauricio Macri in the 90s, and Brazil, with its so-called soft coup and Dilma’s government — offer a quick glimpse into what is to come. Even in Uruguay, a peaceful country that challenges our paradigms, the replacement of Pepe Mujica with Tabaré Vázquez, who is from the same political party but with very different political tendencies, has been a step backwards with regard to both discourse and practice concerning the decriminalization of medical marijuana and its legal sale in pharmacies, much like what has already happened with the issue of abortion.

Nowadays it is the social organizations, specific communities, and progressive groups that come together in diverse spaces of public discourse, where the cultural debate between two different conceptions of society and power are taking place. At times, the respective local or national legislatures take part in the debate, but not always.

With regard to cannabis policies, laws and regulations are being made with scant or no public discussion and little publicity. The new legislation punishes growing or storing marijuana seeds with between four to fifteen years of prison, similar to the punishment for producing chemical precursors or any other primary material for the production of narcotics. These changes have raised the alarm amongst organizations that for years have fought for the legalization of medical marijuana. Without a doubt, these new laws constitute a setback in this fight, as they go in the opposite direction from what these organizations propose.

Moreover, the new legislation contradicts the celebrated Arriola sentence, in which the Supreme Court actually decriminalized the possession of cannabis joints for personal use.

Interestingly, various studies have shown that in these countries many citizens consume cannabis as an alternative to certain prescription drugs for sleep disorders or as pain killers, further increasing the use of cannabis in medical patients compared to those who use it solely as a recreational drug.

This is the main argument of various politicians — together with numerous journalists, artists, and athletes — who have joined the campaign to defend policies decriminalizing the use of cannabis as a fundamental element of public health. This argument is considered by several organizations, political parties, and local cannabis supporters as the starting point for raising awareness in a society more lacking in knowledge than actively adverse to cannabis use in the hope of prompting a more detailed discussion on its legalization.

If passed, the new legislation — all of which is being promoted by right-wing parties in Latin America — will violate the people’s inalienable, constitutional right to health since criminalization will extend not only to those who use cannabis, but also to those who grow it.


For this reason, while civic organizations work intrepidly to defend the people’s right to health, the situation on the ground has compelled the judiciary to untangle the contradictions generated by the executive branch, the police, and other representatives of the most reactionary elements of society. Thus, a sentence handed down by a federal judge in La Plata, Argentina, ordered the Petroleum Workers Comp insurance fund (OSPe, in its Spanish abbreviation) to supply medical marijuana to a seventeen month-old boy suffering from West Syndrome or refractory epileptic encephalopathy. As the judge explained,  “In any given patient, the therapeutic use of cannabinoids and their associated compounds must depend exclusively on medical criteria, which, as in the case of all other drugs, is a decision based on medical science. It does not correspond to the duties of this court to review these criteria.”

In order for these families to provide their children with efficient and cost-effective treatment for their illnesses,the main focus of NGOs right now is the decriminalization of the cultivation of marijuana for personal use. This question was tabled during the recent congressional debate on the legalization of medical marijuana due to opposition from the right-wing parties which currently hold power, even after hearing testimony from the families of the sick children pleading for the legalization of “home-grown” marijuana and also despite the promises made by legislators and President Mauricio Macri’s political party that they would “solve the problem.” Once more, another question has been swept under the rug by the current right-wing government.

When talking about “the criteria” or “common sense” with regard to the various views on marijuana use, opinions differ depending on the mechanism of access or administration: those users who consume the drug more intensively and who have a higher socioeconomic and educational level go to cannabis clubs; others with more or less similar characteristics, but who do not belong to a network, prefer to grow their own marijuana. Still other, more sporadic users obtain the drug at a pharmacy, probably using much less than the maximum allowance of 40 grams.  In this last group, there may even be associations of users who register only one of their members to supply cannabis for the whole group, as the maximum quantity allowed is more than sufficient for all.


The short-sighted neoliberal governments lump all these categories together. Thus, all substances fall under the generic label of “drugs,” whether they be cannabis or synthetic drugs, their precursors, acid, ketamine, etc. The use of this broad label not only justifies keeping marijuana illegal, but also serves as an excuse to oppress cannabis users, which is the immediate effect of such legislation. In turn, this “theory” (if it can even be called that) necessarily implies control over people’s bodies, which is the main interest of the Roman Catholic Church and which is intimately linked to the prohibition of abortion. The power to decide over our own bodies becomes a slogan that goes beyond the mere vindications of each specific sector, encompassing a broad range of policies that go from cannabis use to abortion and which, naturally, include public health.

It is well known that since synthetic drugs are easily bought and sold in diverse public spaces — from the smallest disco to the biggest rave clubs — thisparticular business venture is governed and protected by the same legislationthat regulates the norms, criteria, and status of these types ofestablishments. That is to say, the “narcos” are regulated only by the norms applicable to bars, restaurants, discos, and clubs.

In general, the owners of these businesses act in bad faith, turning off the water in the restrooms so the drugs have a greater effect and the user has to buy more alcohol and/or feels the need to keep consuming the drugs on offer. In this situation, national drug policies have responded by regarding (and treating) young people as criminals. The focus is not on the responsibility of the owners of these venues or the production and form of consumption of synthetic drugs. It has come to the point that in both Argentina and Uruguay there have been cases of intoxications and overdoses leading to the death of more than one young party-goer. In those cases, the cause of death is always listed as a heart attack caused by the drug. But the autopsy results often find synthetic drugs containing agrochemical pesticides, particularly levamisole and phenacetin.

Meanwhile, thousands of organizations, like “Mamá Cultiva” (the name — “Mother Grows” — says it all!) in Argentina is spreading the message to young addicts that there is an alternative drug culture that can contribute to their health and enjoyment: “We keep fighting because we believe in the possibility a more humane medical practice, mass media, and politics. We ask you to join us in this fight, that you walk in our shoes and walk side by side with us. Only then will we be able to become a more just and more inclusive country.”


The chain reaction throughout the entire South American continent makes it obvious that neocon polices to perpetuate the “War on Drugs,” which was started by Ronald Reagan in the 80s only to be proven a resounding failure two decades later, is in no way an inspired improvisation, but rather an effort agreed upon and planned by multinational corporations. One need go no further than Chile to see how attitudes towards young people and drugs have evolved much along the same lines as in Argentina and Uruguay. In cahoots with medical laboratories, the principal medical science associations recently published an unusual statement meant to put pressure on the authorities. This document highlighted the alleged negative effects of marijuana use, especially in children and adolescents. Based on suspicious anecdotal and personal experiences of these same doctors, this opinion paper lacks any statistical analysis nor does it cite systematic scientific studies. Instead, it is peppered with mentions of unspecified studies conducted by anonymous domestic and foreign entities to back up their conclusions. In the document, the Chilean medical elites indicate that their country has the world’s highest rate of marijuana use in schoolchildren. The study precipitously asserts that “the damage caused by this drug to brain functions, especially those related with learning and motivation, is why marijuana use is frequently the cause of school failure and dropping out, problems which hit the most vulnerable the hardest.” Hence, this document provides the theoretical underpinning for a strategy to sow a certain type of psychological terror that conditions the unknowing public to reject any type of liberalizing initiatives.

In a moralistic tone, the mass media, acolytes to the political establishment, dedicate themselves to asking, “Are we as a society, with our at times frivolous debate on the legalization of marijuana, sending our young people the proper message?” For this reason, the discussion is based  on the imperative to act “responsibly and preventatively,” taking the consequences for the health and welfare of young people as an excuse for a rigid and absolute “No” on the issue to save adolescents from the “deviant behavior” caused by the great evil of marijuana. In short, they’ve organized a pincer movement.


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