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Feature: Brazilian President Signs New Drug Law -- No Jail for Users

Brazilian President Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva last week signed a bill creating a new drug law in South America's largest and most populous nation. Under the new law, drug users and possessors will not be arrested and jailed, but cited and offered rehabilitation and community service. The new law marks an important shift in Brazilian drug policy, with drug users now being officially viewed not as criminals but as people in need of medical and psychological help.

"A drug user is not a case for the police, he's a drug addict," Elias Murad, the congressman who sponsored the bill, told the Christian Science Monitor after Lula signed the bill into law. "He's more of a medical and social problem than a police problem, and that's the way thinking is going these days, not just here in Brazil but the world over. We believe that you can't send someone who is ill to jail."

"Smoking marijuana is not a crime," agreed Paulo Roberto Uchoa, who heads Brazil's National Antidrug Secretariat. "A drug user is... someone who needs counseling and information. The ones who traffic drugs are the criminals."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/psicotropicusbanner.jpg
Psicotropicus banner promoting marijuana (maconha) legalization
With 170 million, Brazil has emerged as a major drug market. Marijuana (or "maconha") use is common, and Brazil claims the dubious distinction of being the world's second largest cocaine market, behind the United States. Brazil has traditionally imprisoned drug users, but that is expensive and it raises the risk they will be exposed to and join the country's well-armed and violent drug trafficking gangs or "commands."

Previously, small-time drug possessors faced between six months and two years in prison, but under the new law, they face only one or more of the following: treatment, community service, fines, or suspension of their drivers' licenses. Penalties for drug traffickers and sellers, however, have been increased slightly. Under the old law, dealers face three to 15 years in prison; now they face five to 15. The law also creates a new crime of being a "narcotrafficking capitalist," punishable by between eight and 20 years in prison.

While Brazilian government officials congratulated themselves on their progressive approach, not everyone saw the glass as half full. "Let's not fool ourselves, drug use is still a crime," said Martin Aranguri Soto, a post-graduate political science student studying imprisonment at the Pontificia Universidade Catolica in Sao Paulo (and who also serves as DRCNet's translator). "Yes, the new mantra is that this has shifted from being a police matter to a public health matter," he told Drug War Chronicle. "But people are still being punished for the choices they made, and if they don’t comply with the 'socio-educational measures' the law mentions -- whatever those are -- they can still be imprisoned for six to 24 months. As if they owed society something for using drugs or needed to be 'educated' or 'corrected.'"

And while Brazilian officials are touting the alternative penalties as a better approach, Aranguri Soto suggested their primary motivation was to cool off Brazil's overcrowded and overheated prisons, home to some of the country's toughest drug overlords (who operate from behind bars) and the scene of repeatedly violent rebellions, most recently in May, when more than 160 people were killed in prison riots and street-fighting organized by the drug commands.

"The big argument supporting the alternative penalties is that it will alleviate overcrowding in the prisons," he said. "You also hear rhetoric about avoiding 'moral contamination' -- the same old formula repeated by criminologists for almost 200 years now."

Prosecutor Ricardo de Oliveira Silva, who advocated for the new law, supported Aranguri Soto's contention, telling the Christian Science Monitor the new law could mean judges send one-third fewer people to jail. That would greatly reduce overcrowding, he said.

"This law does not decriminalize drug use," complained Aranguri Soto. "It keeps punishing users, but now it treats them like sick people. It activates therapeutic justice and legitimizes the state's moralizing role when it comes to individual conduct," he argued. "The new law is a trap, a modern, compassionate, healing, therapeutic trap."

Soto and his Brazilian colleagues have now joined a debate that has swirled in US reform circles for years but which intensified with the campaign for, and passage of, California's Proposition 36 in the November 2000 election. A more hopeful view was taken in a 2003 interview with Drug War Chronicle by King County Bar Association Drug Policy Project chief Roger Goodman. "Reform is always two steps forward, one step back," Goodman said, "but now this whole idea of treatment over incarceration has been mainstreamed. It's no longer radical. The next step is government regulation of drugs instead of government regulation of human behavior. That's much more radical."

Either way, Brazil's new law has been a long time coming. First introduced by Congressman Murad in 1991, the bill took five years to pass the lower house and another five years to pass the Senate. It then languished for another five years before the Lula government got around to signing it.

Now, Brazil has taken a half-step forward. The question now is how the new law will be implemented and whether it will serve as a stepping stone to an even more progressive drug policy or an obstacle to an even more progressive drug policy.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Brasilian Law says one thing, but the cops say another.

In Rio cops will even go as far as killing marijuana users. most of the time they will just demand you bribe them or they will arrest you, after they beat you.

Bs, that's totally not true. 

Bs, that's totally not true.  I don't know where you live in Rio but most times cops won't say anything and if they do decide to do something the worst they can do is put you in jail for the night. Technically that's even illegal but they could state that you were threatning them/ being violent.  However I never heard of a police officer killing regular teenagers (meaning people who don't live in the ghettos of Rio) for smoking a joint.

in RIO the cops sucks I

in RIO the cops sucks I payed R$5000 or USD$2500 so i dont go to jail for 20 grams. But in Manaus they are pritty cool I got cot with 30 grams of hash and they let me go. In sao paulo 50/50 chance they take you in.

One step forward

Now it's just the dealers who are the criminals? Let people make a profit.

Here in Mexico the drug war is worse than ever, it's frustrating to know that if the US got off its ass and stopped this absurd war my country would follow suit, but no. The president said it himself, that if the US didn't decriminalize it would be pointless to do it here, the sad things is, it's true.

Drug War

Yes the USA sucks. What do you expect from a country that declares "war" on everything. The US has had a War on Poverty, War on Cancer, War on Drugs and the War on Terror not to mention all of the military actions taken against sovereign nations who fail to kneel to the Beast. The only war that our leaders are winning is their undeclared war on civil liberties and freedom. I'll be leaving this hell-hole soon and hopefully can find a country which will accept me even though  I was born in the United States. The US is a police state and it's getting worse every day. F*#k the USA! Please don't think badly of all americans. We did not choose to be born here and we sure as hell don't chose our leaders anymore.

Have you ever considered

Have you ever considered trying to take advantage of the opportunities afforded you so you can have a nice family and place to live? People like you are always mad at guys like me, but all we are trying to do is help young people to not get distracted so they can lead happy, fulfilling lives. I have several friends with drug problems, and you are lying if you say drugs are not a major distraction. I have one friend who is talented with computers and networking equipment. He was handed the opportunity of a lifetime to go work for HP. Within a yr, he was using and missing work (never married at age 40). By some miracle, as he was absent for his second week and was ready to be terminated, another company bought his division off of HP. So he gets excited that he has an opportunity to reset his record. I was amazed and happy for him. Within four months, though, he couldn't keep from using again and wound up officially terminated. I am commonly the guy referred to by the left as unprogressive and unintelligent. Forgive me for not buying this idea of legalizing drugs so you can feel better about your habits and potentially ruin my family too. I understand the drug war argument, but there wouldn't be a war if demand were less. The problem isn't that drugs are illegal. The problem we face is that our culture glamorizes drug use and doesn't help people see that you can lead a very pleasant, fulfilling life without drugs. I link the unnaturally high demand in the US to the entertainment industry. If you are a user, fix "your" problem, and stop tempting others, so that innocent folks in Central America (and America) are not harmed.

So have you ever drank

So have you ever drank alcohol? It was once made illegal when politicians and "moral leaders" of this country recognized its harmful effects on society and felt the need to force their beliefs on the entire nation, but was then re-legalized when a majority of the population said they wanted that freedom as responsible adults. While I'll agree there are some very harmful drugs that we need to try hard to eradicate from society (meth, crack, a large number of pharmaceuticals...) but there are also those that can be used responsibly. I regularly watch "guys like you" drink abusively yet others drink responsibly. Same is true with marijuana, it can be used responsibly or it can be abused.  But keep in mind that when it IS abused it is much less harmful than when alcohol is abused. This is the general premise why so many in this nation argue for legalization... the government laws aren't based on facts, they're based on hysteria and stereotypes from the '40s and '50s. The government needs to review each drug and figure out how best to manage it. CAN it be used safely and responsibly? If so, classify like alcohol and tobacco. Is it addictive after a single use, or extremely harmful/dangerous? Then work toward eradication but not via a "war" on those who use it. Initially there will be problems with such policies but, over time, if the people see the government is being honest and actually acting in their best interest then such policies will lead to less violence, lower government spending (and actually bring tax revenue), and will drive a more self-responsible population.  I agree with you -- drug abusers need to fix "their" problems, as we all do-- but also recognize that many who use drugs don't necessarily view their responsible use as a problem.

PS: Father of 1

PS: Father of 1 amazing little boy, loving husband, manage a team of 8 software engineers in multi-national corporation, house paid off, responsible medical MJ user.

War War War

Alcohol prohibition was repelled in 1933 in the US. Alcohol related trafficking crime stopped over night.  Tax act of 1937 enacted drug laws, all drugs being illegal with marijuana being classified incorrectly as a narcotic, machine guns also outlawed with out proper license.

During prohibition crime in alcohol trafficking increased to the point that prohibition was repelled, the law simply did not stop human nature. Millions of people were involved in alcohol trafficking. When the law was repelled, people employed in the bar (speakeasy) industry still had jobs, but the traffickers immediately had a cash flow problem. The cops and politicians also immediately had a cash flow problem. Wages for cops and politicians were low.  When the payoffs stopped, the cops and politicians were not happy, they lost an income that was far above their normal legal salary. 

So in 1937 with the tax act, the traffickers were back in business, the politicians and cops could afford a summer home again, new cars, and jewelry for their mistress's. Everyone back in business and living fat.

The US drug war has been all about keeping the cash flow going, each side needs the other to survive financially. In the 80's US President Reagan used the drug war as an excuse to send American troops into every country in Latin America. The real use of the troops was for combating communism, but congress would not allow and finance a war throughout Latin America after the Vietnam experience. 

Therefore President Reagan made up the drug war, we are going to save your children from the scavenges of drugs. Congress ok'd the invasions of every Latin American country, with plenty of funding, lets save the children!

Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, and one or two other countries kicked the American troops out and the DEA in recent years, and refuse to borrow from the IMF. They were tired of American troops terrorizing, jailing and killing their population. In Bolivia whole villages were attacked and men women and children were killed. The families who grew coca leaves were held at gunpoint and jailed, unless the did not grow or only grew what the US allowed them to grow. These Bolivian families have owned the land and had been growing the plants for thousands of years. 

The drug war is actually a war against the people, the drug war is just a smoke screen for many facets of what it really is. It's original conception was to enable attacks on the communists, as in Nicaragua and other Latin American countries. The US congress would not provide funds for an all out war against communism throughout Latin American.

As more countries kick out the Americans and DEA, the US will continue to lose power, and individual countries will make their own choice, as it should be.  How do Americans justify invading some ones country, killing and or arresting it's people, shackling them and taking the to the US and convict them with laws that have no jurisdiction in their country. These people have never set foot in the US prior to their arrest.

The US has been committing horrific acts of terrorism for 40 years, in more countries than any other terrorist organization in the world. How can Americans justify sticking their nose in other peoples business, and kill them if they don't like them. Americans in the past 40 years have killed millions of people in the name of saving American children.  The US Gov. is the greatest Terrorist organization the world has ever seen. One persons terrorist is another persons patriot.

The countries of the world need to band together and sue the US Gov. for the terrorist acts, destruction of crops, murder, and illegal detainment. 

Perhaps one day, the stupid Americans will wake up and realize how much death and destruction they have caused, but then American do not care, they just want bigger Government with more guns, not possible without justification or finances. The anti drug laws provide both. I doubt the US Gov will give up the war on drugs, killing innocent families in other countries is just to much fun, and profitable. 

It is going to take the rest of the world to do what Brazil, Bolivia, and Venezuela has done to get the American Death Squads off every ones back. Just like the bully on the block, eventually everyone on the block is going to get sick and tired of it, everyone will walk out their door at the same time some day, and grab the bully and beat the living shit out of him. The US Gov. has a big fall coming, unless they stop this Drug War and stop murdering the people of the world. Most countries prefer to do business with other countries now. The Americans are losing business revenue, as the drug war eventually comes to a close, all good things come to an end, the Americans are going to be in deep do do, as they will not have the trafficking money to take, and all the angry countries will not do businesses with American reducing the GDP.

America is going to get it's ass kicked eventually.

War War War

Alcohol prohibition was repelled in 1933 in the US. Alcohol related trafficking crime stopped over night.  Tax act of 1937 enacted drug laws, all drugs being illegal with marijuana being classified incorrectly as a narcotic, machine guns also outlawed with out proper license.

During prohibition crime in alcohol trafficking increased to the point that prohibition was repelled, the law simply did not stop human nature. Millions of people were involved in alcohol trafficking. When the law was repelled, people employed in the bar (speakeasy) industry still had jobs, but the traffickers immediately had a cash flow problem. The cops and politicians also immediately had a cash flow problem. Wages for cops and politicians were low.  When the payoffs stopped, the cops and politicians were not happy, they lost an income that was far above their normal legal salary. 

So in 1937 with the tax act, the traffickers were back in business, the politicians and cops could afford a summer home again, new cars, and jewelry for their mistress's. Everyone back in business and living fat.

The US drug war has been all about keeping the cash flow going, each side needs the other to survive financially. In the 80's US President Reagan used the drug war as an excuse to send American troops into every country in Latin America. The real use of the troops was for combating communism, but congress would not allow and finance a war throughout Latin America after the Vietnam experience. 

Therefore President Reagan made up the drug war, we are going to save your children from the scavenges of drugs. Congress ok'd the invasions of every Latin American country, with plenty of funding, lets save the children!

Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, and one or two other countries kicked the American troops out and the DEA in recent years, and refuse to borrow from the IMF. They were tired of American troops terrorizing, jailing and killing their population. In Bolivia whole villages were attacked and men women and children were killed. The families who grew coca leaves were held at gunpoint and jailed, unless the did not grow or only grew what the US allowed them to grow. These Bolivian families have owned the land and had been growing the plants for thousands of years. 

The drug war is actually a war against the people, the drug war is just a smoke screen for many facets of what it really is. It's original conception was to enable attacks on the communists, as in Nicaragua and other Latin American countries. The US congress would not provide funds for an all out war against communism throughout Latin American.

As more countries kick out the Americans and DEA, the US will continue to lose power, and individual countries will make their own choice, as it should be.  How do Americans justify invading some ones country, killing and or arresting it's people, shackling them and taking the to the US and convict them with laws that have no jurisdiction in their country. These people have never set foot in the US prior to their arrest.

The US has been committing horrific acts of terrorism for 40 years, in more countries than any other terrorist organization in the world. How can Americans justify sticking their nose in other peoples business, and kill them if they don't like them. Americans in the past 40 years have killed millions of people in the name of saving American children.  The US Gov. is the greatest Terrorist organization the world has ever seen. One persons terrorist is another persons patriot.

The countries of the world need to band together and sue the US Gov. for the terrorist acts, destruction of crops, murder, and illegal detainment. 

Perhaps one day, the stupid Americans will wake up and realize how much death and destruction they have caused, but then American do not care, they just want bigger Government with more guns, not possible without justification or finances. The anti drug laws provide both. I doubt the US Gov will give up the war on drugs, killing innocent families in other countries is just to much fun, and profitable. 

It is going to take the rest of the world to do what Brazil, Bolivia, and Venezuela has done to get the American Death Squads off every ones back. Just like the bully on the block, eventually everyone on the block is going to get sick and tired of it, everyone will walk out their door at the same time some day, and grab the bully and beat the living shit out of him. The US Gov. has a big fall coming, unless they stop this Drug War and stop murdering the people of the world. Most countries prefer to do business with other countries now. The Americans are losing business revenue, as the drug war eventually comes to a close, all good things come to an end, the Americans are going to be in deep do do, as they will not have the trafficking money to take, and all the angry countries will not do businesses with American reducing the GDP.

America is going to get it's ass kicked eventually.

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