HomeNewsAnalysisArgentina Drug Decriminalization Could Throw Official Stats Overboard

Argentina Drug Decriminalization Could Throw Official Stats Overboard


The proposed decriminalization of personal drug use in Argentina, which will soon be debated in Congress, is poised to ignite a fresh debate over the country’s security strategy and challenge statistics pointing to its success.

On August 21, a commission charged with proposing wide-ranging modifications to Argentina’s penal code will hand over a draft proposal to President Mauricio Macri, who will review it and send it to Congress for debate, Clarín reported.

Among the proposed changes is the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use in “small quantities” (the text does not specify how much would qualify as “small”) and in the “private sphere,” according to a leaked version of the draft proposal, which was reported by a number of media outlets.

The proposal will also reportedly establish harsher penalties for drug trafficking offenses in cases where minors are affected and life imprisonment for members of international organizations involved in drug trafficking.

The idea is to align Argentina’s penal code with a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that said criminalizing drug possession for personal use, as stated under the current Narcotics Law, is unconstitutional since it goes against a number of rights, including the right to privacy.

SEE MORE: Argentina News and Profile

Mariano Borinsky, the head of the commission charged with drafting the new penal code, told Clarín that the reasoning behind the changes is that currently most cases involving drug possession, regardless of their size, in Argentina are dismissed in the courts because of the 2009 Supreme Court ruling.

“The idea is for the Attorney General’s Office to be able to focus on organized crime and not on the users,” Borinsky said.

Mariano Fusero, a lawyer and an expert on drug policies, told InSight Crime that the change is very important for Argentina, but that by failing to clearly define what is meant by “private sphere,” the law still leaves too many areas open to interpretation.

“Under the current law, we have seen cases where a person was sent to prison for eight months for having five marijuana plants and another who had 120 plants but was released almost immediately because the Supreme Court ruling was applied since they found that the plants were not for sale,” Fusero said. “Most of the arrests [under the current law] take place on the streets. Those people are not under the ‘private sphere.’ How would the new proposed law apply? Establishing a norm that is still so open to interpretation by police officers, prosecutors and judges is nonsense. We need norms that are clear and conclusive.”

The issue demands attention. Marijuana consumption increased by 150 percent while cocaine consumption doubled in Argentina in 2017, according to data from the latest official survey. And criminal groups have sophisticated operations to satisfy both local and international demand.

InSight Crime Analysis

The proposed changes to Argentina’s penal code are meant to shed light on the question of whether or not personal drug use is punishable by law, an issue that has been in a grey zone since the 2009 Supreme Court ruling.

The ruling -- which states that drug possession, as long as it’s in small quantities and does not affect third parties, cannot be penalized – currently stands alongside the law prohibiting this same act. Police in Argentina have therefore continued to detain drug users, leaving it up to judges to make a final decision on each individual case.

The change in the law might also, perhaps inadvertently, raise deeper questions about the purported success of the current administration’s anti-narcotics strategy and may help focus efforts towards more significant targets.

Since taking office, President Macri has made it a priority to fight drug trafficking and organized crime with a strategy that has been heavily reliant on increasing drug seizures and arrests.

However, experts have pointed out that seizures and arrests have increased because authorities have targeted big organizations and small consumers alike, with the latter padding their statistical bottom line.

Drug violations are currently the second most common crime for people held in prison, according to official data, and they have increased at a higher rate than any other crime since Macri took office.

Several analysts consulted by InSight Crime added that decriminalizing personal drug use will undoubtedly affect official figures, and might even force authorities to at least rethink parts of their security strategy.

Mariana Souto Zabaleta, who studies drug trafficking at the Latin American Institute of Security and Democracy (Instituto Latinoamericano de Seguridad y Democracia - ILSED), said that decriminalizing drug use is also key because it would free up state resources to fight larger criminal organizations.

“Between 2011 and 2016, 36 percent of drug-related cases opened at the federal level were related to personal use. Most of those cases never go anywhere in the end, but they drain a lot of resources from the system. Decriminalizing personal drug use would change that,” Souto Zabaleta told InSight Crime.

“Separating cases that have to do with the security strategy from those that don’t, including personal drug use, and focusing on the activities of the most powerful actors makes the fight against drug trafficking a lot more efficient.”

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


Family clans have traditionally shaped Argentina’s criminal map. But a growing drug consumption market, historic prison corruption and a lack…


El Salvador's government has praised an elite unit tasked with confronting street gangs, but this strategy is unlikely to translate…


Venezuela's social conflict and violence may be even more complicated a week after the failed military uprising led by Juan…

About InSight Crime


Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution Met With Uproar

6 MAY 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime launched its latest investigation, Venezuela’s Cocaine Revolution¸ accompanied by a virtual panel on its findings. The takeaways from this three-year effort, including the fact that Venezuela…


Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…


InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…


Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…


Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…