Argentina’s government is seeking drug law reforms targeting cocaine paste that combine a crackdown on sellers with treatment for users, but officials may find it difficult to strike the proper balance of these two strategies.
In the final congressional session of 2016, the Argentine government submitted plans to modify the country’s anti-narcotics laws, adding provisions specifically related to “paco” — the Argentine name for the smokeable paste that is an intermediary stage in processing cocaine.
If passed, the proposed reform would increase penalties for the production, trafficking and supply of paco from between four and fifteen years to between six and eighteen years.
In addition, those supplying the drug free of charge could face sentences of between four and fifteen years, unless the “delivery, supply or facilitation was occasional, free of charge and for small quantities,” in which case the sentence would be between one and four years, reported El Liberal.
Users that have no previous drug convictions, however, will not face prison time but instead be subject to judicial orders forcing them to attend rehabilitation treatment.
“The proposed modifications are based on the profound addiction that this substance leads to and the rapid and enormous biological and emotional deterioration that it causes in its consumers,” the proposal submitted to congress states, according to La Nación.
According to the document, consumption of paco has increased 200 percent in recent years and Argentines now consume 400,000 doses of paco every day, giving the market a retail value of close to $190 million a year.
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The rise of widespread use of cheap and highly addictive cocaine paste, which is known around the region by a variety of different names such as “bazuco” in Colombia or “oxi” in Brazil, is perhaps the greatest drug consumption challenge facing Latin America today.
However, there is little evidence to suggest that specifically targeting the drug by introducing higher sentences will have an impact on the market. Prisons all around Latin America are filled past the bursting point with people who have run afoul of hardline anti-drug laws, and yet consumption continues to rise around much of the region.
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Singling out cocaine paste compared to other drugs could also prove problematic. Measures to introduce penalties for crack cocaine harsher than those for powdered cocaine in the United States, for example, ended up disproportionally targeting the poorer communities where crack is more common than the more expensive powder. In Latin America, there is often a similar divide, with cocaine paste use largely linked to poor areas and neglected social groups.
Differentiating between users and dealers, meanwhile, could be seen as part of a gradual paradigm shift around the region towards helping rather than criminalizing drug users. However, this too could prove problematic. So far, many countries have found drawing a line between criminals and addicts difficult and their efforts often end with arbitary distinctions, while experts have questioned the efficacy and ethics of forced treatment programs.