Militarisation of the drug war, especially in poor neighbourhoods and rural areas, will backfire unless enforcement programmes are designed carefully in combination with comprehensive policies that address social segregation and the extreme levels of inequality in Brazil.
The number of people imprisoned for drug offenses in Brazil has increased over the last 20 years, but this has not affected the availability or consumption of drugs, reveals a study by the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The study also shows that those who are locked up for drug offenses are mainly small-scale dealers who represent the lowest links in drug distribution operations, and not the large-scale wholesale traffickers who dominate the country’s illicit drug trafficking trade.
Historically, Brazilian drug legislation has been strongly influenced by the UN drugs conventions. Under these conventions, Brazil committed to 'combating' drug trafficking and reducing consumption and demand through any means possible, including the most drastic one, criminal law. Moreover, the official commitment to the international narcotics monitoring system and the close diplomatic and trade ties between Brazil and the United States led to the adoption of a prohibitionist approach that was very much in line with the U.S. war on drugs.
In Brazil, possession of drugs for personal consumption is punished with educational measures and community service, not prison. In this video, a young man tells of the disparity in sentencing between the wealthy and the poor.
The city of Rio de Janeiro has begun a program of involuntary hospitalization for crack users, one month after Brazil’s biggest city São Paulo began a similar program. Critics say that forcing addicts into rehabilitation treatment is ineffective. “When an addict is interned unwillingly, he can remain abstinent as long as he remains hospitalized,” Psychiatrist Dartiu Xavier da Silveira said. “When he returns to his normal life (and his usual problems), the vast majority of users go back to using the drug as before.”
Sao Paulo State expanded its attack on crack cocaine by unveiling a program that will provide about $650 a month in subsidies for the rehabilitation of addicts at private treatment centers. Governor Geraldo Alckmin said 1,350 reals will be earmarked monthly for each crack user who voluntarily enrolls in a rehabilitation program that is expected to get under way in 11 cities. The state will give the money to accredited rehabilitation centers when clients present a "Begin Again" card they receive after enrolling in a program.
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.
With a boom in crack use over the past decade, Brazilian authorities are struggling to stop the drug's spread, sparking a debate over the legality and efficiency of forcibly interning users. Brazil today is the world's largest consumer of both cocaine and its crack derivative, according to the Federal University of Sao Paolo. Adults can't be forced to stay in treatment, and most leave the shelters within three days. But children are kept in treatment against their will or returned to parents if they have a family.
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.