InSight, 24 October, 2011, by Jeanna Cullinan

Proposed changes to Ecuador's penal code would decriminalise possession of drugs for personal use, including up to 10 grams of marijuana and hashish, four grams of opium, five grams of cocaine, and 100 milligrams of heroin.

Ecuador's National Assembly is scheduled to begin debate on the reforms within 90 days, reports La Hora newspaper. The proposed legislation distinguishes between types of drug trafficking offenses and defines penalties accordingly. Individuals who participate in large-scale drug trafficking and production, which is defined as 1000 times the quantity permitted for personal use, will be more harshly penalised than those participating in domestic production and distribution.

The legislation also targets individuals participating in international trafficking networks with longer prison sentences than those who produce and distribute drugs for domestic consumption only. The proposal will also punish the production, transportation or distribution of precursor chemicals and the cultivation of illegal crops.

In addition to targeting drug production and trafficking, the proposed legislation lays out harsh penalties for murder and kidnapping for ransom. According to Justice Minister Johana Pesantez, modernisation of the penal code is necessary to address the threat from organised crime, which has increasingly affected Ecuador. While proponents of decriminalisation highlight the various benefits of the proposed reform, which will also allow limited resources be targeted for abuse prevention, others have voiced concern that decriminalising possession of small amounts will increase drug use among young people who will no longer fear imprisonment.

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