With Brazil gripped by a crack epidemic, the authorities have launched a series of controversial initiatives. Since the start of last year, São Paulo has introduced street clearance operations by police, increased funds for rehabilitation centres and, most recently, focused more on judicial intervention and involuntary treatment. Critics argue that the policies are haphazard, shift with the political winds, often violate the rights of the users and may be driven by business demands to clean up a piece of potentially valuable land.
São Paulo’s Cracolândia was Brazil’s first and is still its biggest. It is home to 2,000 addicts. But most Brazilian cities now have similar districts. Recent studies put the country’s crack-using population at 1m-1.2m, the world’s largest. Some city governments have used strong-arm tactics against the crack epidemic—with little effect other than to fill prisons, which have more than twice as many inmates as a decade ago.
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.
At the upcoming Summit of the Americas, President Dilma has an unprecedented opportunity to contribute to building a new architecture for global drug policy. She can make a decisive break with the past. A new approach would emphasize public health, social justice and cultures of peace rather than repression, enforcement and war. If Brazil is to consolidate its international legitimacy and position as promoter of human rights, it needs to adopt more humane policies back home.
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.