Brazil has been struggling with drug violence for years. The problem got so bad that the country passed a law in 2006 to distinguish between dealers and users in handing out sentences, meant to reduce the overwhelming pressure on the justice and jail systems and to better single out dealers. But since then, the number of Brazilians in prison for drug charges has more than doubled and its total prison population has grown by 37 percent.
A host of academic, legal, health, political and social figures are joining together to back a campaign to decriminalise drug use in Brazil, as tens of thousands of consumers uninvolved in the drug trade are currently jailed. The “Drug Law: It’s Time to Change” campaign is an initiative launched by the Brazilian Commission on Drugs and Democracy, which aims to gather one million signatures in support of a bill that will be introduced in congress during the second half of 2013.
Remarkable drug policy developments are taking place in Latin America. This is not only at the level of political debate, but is also reflected in actual legislative changes in a number of countries. All in all there is an undeniable regional trend of moving away from the ‘war on drugs’. This briefing explains the background to the opening of the drug policy debate in the region, summarises the most relevant aspects of the ongoing drug law reforms in some countries, and makes a series of recommendations that could help to move the debate forward in a productive manner.
The Ministry of Justice in Brazil announced the results of research that show that there are too many people behind bars in Brazil for drug trafficking. The Ministry subsequently recommended a review of drug legislation in light of the data and in support of human rights, seems to indicate that things are changing, or at least that change is in the air for drug policy in the nation. The study was a joint project of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, UFRJ, and the University of Brasília UnB, coordinated by Luciana Boiteux.
Participants of the Seminar "Drugs Policies: Progresses and Retrocessions", held in Rio de Janeiro by Viva Rio and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, recommend drug policy based on respect for human rights, developed from a public health perspective, that favors scientific research and includes strategies to prevent drug addiction. Luciana Boiteux underlined the disparity that exists between the depenalization of drug use and the increased penalization of selling drugs that resulted from the 2006 Law on Drugs.
This report is a personal response from the author on the issue of Drug Policy and The Courts. A year ago, in the author’s professional practice, he felt duty-bound to make a decision that overturned Brazilian case-law and ran contrary to domestic legislation as regards possession of controlled substances.
This study commissioned by the Brazilian Ministry of Justice underlines the disparity that exists between the depenalization of drug use and the increased penalization of selling drugs that resulted from the 2006 Law on Drugs. Although the fact that the use of drugs is no longer a crime is certainly progress, it seems disproportionate to establish maximum prison sentences of 5 years for the sale of very minor quantities of drugs. The study was a joint project of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, UFRJ, and the University of Brasília UnB that ran from March 2008 and July 2009, supported by the United Nations Development Program, UNDP.