In one of his first official actions, Noboa repeals drug use guidelines he says let criminals go free

Nov 27, 2023 | 0 comments

A day after being sworn into office, President Daniel Noboa has ordered the repeal of controversial guidelines established a decade ago that eliminated penalties for people found carrying illegal drugs in small amounts. The repeal fulfilled a campaign promise by Noboa to fight drug trafficking by reducing barriers to the arrest and conviction of drug dealers.

Daniel Noboa

A statement from Noboa’s communication office claimed that the old guidelines “encouraged micro-trafficking” and characterized them as a “harmful element for Ecuadorian society.” Noboa also directed the ministries of interior and public health to develop “coordinated information, prevention and control programs on the consumption of narcotic and psychotropic substances” and to offer treatment and rehabilitation to “habitual and problematic occasional users.”

The guidelines were adopted in 2013 during the presidency of Rafael Correa under the argument that illegal drug use was a public health problem and users should not be sent to prison. The quantities used in the guidelines attempted to differentiate drug consumption from drug trafficking.

Under the parameters, an individual could carry for personal use up to 10 grams of marijuana, 2 grams of cocaine paste, 1 gram of cocaine, 0.10 grams of heroin and 0.04 grams of amphetamine.

In its statement, the government said it did not disagree with the original intent of the guidelines but said they have become an impediment in prosecuting criminals. “We do not intend to prosecute those who possess small quantities of drugs for personal use but the rules established 10 years ago have made it difficult to prosecute criminals involved in the illegal drug trade. By eliminating these rules, police, prosecutors and judges will face fewer obstacles for bringing criminals to justice.”

The statement added that “we live in different times” that require a new approach” to drug sales and abuse. “We have seen too many cases where judges have been forced to allow known criminals to go free as a result of these rules,” it said.

Earlier this year, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court ordered judges to distinguish between consumers and traffickers when determining possible punishments. The new government says it agrees with the ruling, adding that new protocols will be developed to make the distinction.

It remains unclear how Noboa’s decision will be implemented. His predecessor, President Guillermo Lasso, announced in January 2021 his own decision to eliminate the parameters, arguing that they affected “young people and children,” but it was never implemented.

Ecuador’s spike in drug crime and violence is tied to the trafficking of cocaine produced in neighboring Colombia and Peru. Mexican, Colombian and European cartels have set down roots in the country’s port cities and operate with assistance from local criminal gangs.

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