Drug Law Reform in Ecuador

Building Momentum for a More Effective, Balanced and Realistic Approach
May 2010

ecuador-memoIn Ecuador, the Correa government’s comprehensive justice sector reform project includes significant changes in drug legislation. The country has one of the most punitive drug laws in the hemisphere. In a perversion of justice, those accused of drug offenses are assumed guilty unless they can prove their innocence, mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines ensure excessively long sentences and arrest quotas have led to the imprisonment of growing numbers of those at the lowest end of the drug trafficking trade.

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By 2008, Ecuador’s justice system had reached a breaking point, overwhelmed by huge caseloads of drug-related offenses, and prisons were bursting at the seams. The need for significant reforms was painfully clear. This brief explains why and how the Ecuadorian government arrived at its decision to undertake significant drug law reform and how, if implemented successfully, those reforms could result in more effective, just and humane national drug control policies, setting an example for the rest of the region.

Key elements of effective drug law reform include:
• Decriminalizing drug consumption and treating it as a public health and social policy issue, rather than as a criminal justice problem;
• Developing alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenders; and
• Eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing and ensuring proportionality in punishment for drug-related offenses.