Is Recreational Cannabis Reform Coming to Ecuador?


About 500 people staged a peaceful march through Quito, the capital of Ecuador last week, demanding that authorities decriminalize cannabis for recreational purposes, and further to allow public consumption.

Many attendees at the march were smoking cannabis openly. This an act of courage no matter where you are on the planet, not to mention a dangerous proposition anywhere—even as a patient—as pro-legalization demonstrators in Melbourne found out recently. 

In Ecuador, possession of up to 10 grams has been decriminalized, although authorities can charge one with a crime if found with even 1 gram of cannabis. This is highly controversial because the local police do not carry scales. The decision to charge, in other words, is entirely up to the officer at the scene.

Beyond this, according to the 2008 Constitution of Ecuador, Article 364 states that drug consumption is not a crime—rather, a health concern. Further, medical cannabis was legalized here by the National Assembly of Ecuador in September 2019. In fact, federally regulated medical cannabis production just kicked off in March of this year.

There is a reason people are taking to the streets demanding further cannabis reform this spring—and it is not just limited to this Latin American country. Marches have been held all over the world (even after 420), demanding that cannabis be fully and finally normalized and legalized. In Germany, for example, much like Ecuador, medical use is “legal,” and the country is cultivating medical cannabis. However, just like in Ecuador, patients and recreational users can be charged with a crime at the whim of the police.

This is a situation that is intolerable everywhere simply because of the massive injustice it creates—not to mention the continual criminalization of large segments of the population for a “crime” that is rapidly disappearing.

Ecuador is a country of 16.8 million people, located on the northwest coast of South America and bordering both Columbia and Peru. Once upon a time, Ecuador put itself on the map exporting “Panama hats” to manual laborers working on the Panama Canal and other agricultural work.

More recently, the country is a major exporter of petroleum—and has an increasing profile as a tourist destination. This is in no small part due to its stunning geography. Located on the Ring of Fire—a horseshoe shaped seismically active belt of earthquake epicentres, the country has three distinct regions consisting of coastal, highland, and piedmont zones. It straddles the Andes Mountains and occupies part of the Amazon basin. Offshore, it also includes the Galapagos Islands.

Unlike other Central and South American countries, Ecuador has taken the step of implementing medical cultivation. Now its citizens demand the right to consume the drug for whatever reason.

That logic is pretty global right now. 

The question is, when will authorities catch up?

The Privatization of Medical Cures

Tragically, what the situation in Ecuador illustrates in spades is that the medicalization of the cannabis plant, although overdue, is creating two levels of “legalization.”

The first, usually described as “medical reform” places regulations on who may cultivate, distribute, sell, and ultimately consume the plant. It increasingly means, at least in north-south terms, that the production country can still prosecute its citizens for both medical and recreational use, while pricing it out of the reach of everyday people.

This is a problem even in developed economies. Indeed, it seems to be one of the issues that is finally driving the German government to begin focusing on recreational reform.

The bottom line is that when a country begins cultivation—even for medical purposes—but insists on criminalizing everyone without a license who may grow or use it, the days of criminalization are numbered.

And while the certification of both the medical and recreational industry is a long overdue development, there are plenty of casualties along the way, no matter where you are on the planet.


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