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Conclusions and Perspectives

The Third National Conference on Drug Policy took place in Buenos Aires on the 10th and 11th of August. The conference was organized by Intercambios Civil Association with the support of the Drug Policy Reform Fund, which is administered by the Tides Foundation of New York.

The meeting took place in the Auditorium of the Argentine National Congress and brought together more than 450 participants including legislators, judges, political decision makers, professionals from the judicial system and various health institutions, NGO representatives and drug users. The conference was declared of interest to the National Congress and the Legislature of the City of Buenos Aires. It was sponsored by the National Ministry of Health and the Environment, the National Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the National General Public Prosecutor, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), among other national and international organizations.

Intercambios is a NGO that has been working with drug related problems for ten years and took this opportunity to introduce the debate into the highest level of the legislative sphere.

In the opening panel the president of Intercambios, Graciela Touzé, indicated that “policies developed about these issues not only fail to help but also make problems worse. This is why we propose thinking of new alternatives and modifying the norms for carrying out policies.” Touzé spoke about the recent changes to the drug law: “We are highly concerned that the proposal to find a better response to the challenge of the circulation of illegal drugs by defederalization, although it may be well intentioned, could deepen the criminalization of poverty. Social problems cannot be resolved within the judicial system. We need policies which are based on rigorous scientific studies.”

During the same opening panel, the president of the Commission for the Prevention of Addictions and Control of Drug Trafficking of the House of Representatives, María Teresa Ferrín, sustained that, “In our congress it is not easy to introduce issues like this into the debate. There are projects presented for the decriminalization of possession for personal use and for the use of marijuana with therapeutic intentions and despite the effort that we put forth we cannot even enter into this debate.” Ferrín added that, “There is much to hold accountable for the failure of the politics of prevention, what is certain is that we must find new paths.”

During the first panel about the “Sociocultural Context of the Drug Phenomenon,” Dr. Francisco Maglio (President of the Argentine Society of Anthropologic Medicine) sustained that “alcohol generates much more violence than illegal drugs.” Then, the director of the Tertiary School of Radio Studies -Eter, journalist Eduardo Aliverti, indicated: “The people who are here in this congress are not frequently called upon to convey the information that has to do with this issue because the active discourse of today is a repressive discourse.” Sociologist Gabriel Kessler presented the investigation “Consumption of drugs and alcohol in amateur crime,” in which the experiences of young people who commit property crimes are analyzed, and within which he did not find a necessary relationship between crime and drug use.

Representing the Office for the Joint Southern Cone Program of UNAIDS, Dr. Gabriela de la Iglesia assured that UNAIDS will continue supporting the syringe exchange programs that are implemented in our country.

On his behalf, psychoanalyst Juan Carlos Volnovich sustained that “the dealer isn’t the one who wants to but the one who can, and the one who can is the one with the power. So it is important to know who the enemy is, that it isn’t the user but the dealer.”

Martín Jelsma, Coordinator of the Drugs and Democracy project of the Transnational Institute (Holland), presented a critical vision of the UN drug policy. He affirmed that, “the percentage of occasional consumers of cannabis who develop problematic consumption is so low that it should be reclassified and removed from a status in which it is comparable to heroin.” He explained that the original spirit of the UNO was to protect the well being of humanity but that prohibition has unintentionally caused gigantic problems which urgently need to be corrected in order to save lives. “If the countries which desire effective policies can make their voices heard, the UNO could become a useful forum,” he added.

In the second session of the III National Conference on Drug Policy, Allan Clear, Executive Director of the North American Harm Reduction Coalition explained that, “Our work in harm reduction is effective, but the current government prohibits speaking about the issue and the result is silence, fear, lack of funding, black lists and people dying.”

Dr. Gabriela Hamilton, Director of the National Program for the Fight Against HIV, AIDS and STIs in Argentina indicated that “We could debate upon and think about the ethical dimension concerning the distribution of syringes, but the empirical evidence is so great that such a debate makes little sense and we must apply harm reduction strategies as a health policy and distribute syringes.”

Mirtha Sendic, Representing the National AIDS Program in Brazil, explained how since more than ten years ago harm reduction policies have been improving the health situation in Brazil. Similarly, Dr. Lourdes Chamorro, Director of the National AIDS Plan in Spain emphasized, “We have arrived at this policy ten years too late and it has already demonstrated its extreme effectiveness. It is advantageous to apply these strategies in a timely fashion and with strong support.”

During the panel titled, “Human Rights and Drug Users,” Hernán Gullco, coordinator of the legal area of the Association for Civil Rights, presented a panorama of legal antecedents to define up to which point the law invades intimacy and private property to implement the drug law.

The general attorney of the Nation, Dr. Stella Maris Martínez, added that “legalization would mean more state control, but to propose decriminalization right now is a utopia. What is possible is to demand that the State takes a different attitude towards the user. Right now, the State’s policy is not helping. It is causing more damage.”

Alicia Gillone, coordinator of the health commission for the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, indicated that “We are far from achieving the right to health care, being that this implies a series of spheres that go beyond the exclusive medical attention to harm.”

In the panel on “Formation and Investigation for Policy Development” the need for the academic sphere and that of public management to come together was explored. María José Bravo, from the Pan-American Health Organization, said, “In this region some successful experiences have been achieved, like, for example, those accomplished by Intercambios, but there is not always the necessary government support.”

At the end of the second and last day, Pablo Cymerman, from Intercambios Civil Association, closed the session affirming that, “We are concerned about the advancement of political positions and laws that punish poverty through a discourse of social security. Perhaps it is more convenient to be attentive to the risky implementation of easy answers to complex problems, a path that does not seem surprising in Argentine politics during an electoral campaign year.” He ended saying that, “It is necessary to construct a drug policy that allows for finding new ways of social regulation and that incorporates a perspective on human rights.”