Marijuana Legalization March barred in Brazil
It is a yearly meeting: since 1999 on the first weekend of May, champions of the legalization of cannabis take to the streets to protest against the prohibition of the plant cannabis sativa. This year the march was set to be held simultaneously in 237 countries around the world May 4th.
In Brazil however, in the hours leading up to the event, nine of the scheduled ten cities were barred authorization to hold the march by the Judiciary, on the grounds that it supports criminal offenses.
Two weeks prior to the march, a few of the event organizers in Rio de Janeiro were detained by the police and subsequently released.
“We know that the march will not in itself impel the legalization of marijuana. Our goal is to discuss the right to free speech and to encourage the debate around drug use,” said one of the organizers who chose to remain anonymous. “In Rio specifically, drugs have a very important role in urban violence, with repercussions in various levels of society, which is precisely why the march is important.”
“We propose a change in the legislation, along the same lines as the movements in favor of the death penalty and for legalizing abortions. The current legislation on drugs is inefficient, a failure, and produces more problems than solutions,” said Renato Cinco, a member of Brazil’s National Movement for the Legalization of Drugs. “That is not to say that drugs ought to be a part of people’s lives, what we say is that the effects of drug use must be fought through education and health policies.”
The United Nations Convention on Drugs completes its tenth anniversary this year, and will be undergoing a revision in light of the failure to reduce consumption and the heightened levels of violence related to the international trade in illegal drugs around the world.
Despite international laws for the control of illegal substances based on the United Nations prohibitionist policy, the 2007 report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) concluded that the policy has been inefficient. According to the report, marijuana is the illicit drug most used by secondary students in Latin America. In Brazil it comes in second place after inhalable substances.
“Prohibition is no form of prevention, nor is it public health policy. It generates a lucrative illegal market that can only benefit criminal organizations,” said Cinco.
Brazilian anti-drug legislation
Brazil approved a New Drug Law in 2006 that imposed more flexible sentencing for users of illegal drugs, but it does not protect drug users. Drug users are not jailed but are subject to penalties that include paying fees and receiving admonishments from a judge.
Brazilian law does not however, lay down clear criteria for distinguishing drug users from drug sellers, and fails to specify what quantity of drugs possessed constitute an offense, leaving it up to police officers to decide whether to press charges.
Mauricio Fiore, researcher at the Interdisciplinary Studies Group at of Psychoactive Substances (Neip) points out that by failing to provide a clear definition of drug users and drug traffickers, it allows for the abuse of power on the part of the police. Police training is therefore, crucial: “First and foremost there must be an ethical commitment. From a practical point of view, it is important to train officers especially in how to deal with those from a lower income bracket, they are often wrongfully treated as drug traffickers despite being users,” Fiore said.
While there are those who criticize the new law for allowing biased judgments on the part of the police, others see it as a first step towards decriminalization of drug use, in line with legalized drug use available for substances such as tobacco and alcohol.
“To decriminalize drug use and prohibit drug trafficking may be a solution for drug users but it is no solution for urban violence. Despite this step forward, it is the prohibition to sell drugs that causes the violence,” said Cinco.
In Cinco’s view controlled legalization would be an efficient way to combat violence associated with drug sales, and in the case of marijuana, he goes further, stressing the fact that it is a plant: “Cannabis ought to be legalized, the whole cycle from production to consumption. Now, when I say legalize I do not mean unrestricted drug use. We want to legalize and to regulate it, as with any other legal drug.”
Daniela Piconez e Trigueiros from the Brazilian Network for Harm Reduction and Human Rights (Reduc) sees it slightly differently. In her view drugs are a health issue and she is in favor not of legalization but of the decriminalizing drug users.
“Legalization demands the nation prepare itself first. The movement itself lacks cohesion. One important first step is the decriminalization of drug users, since drugs are a question of health and not a matter for the police,” Trigueiros said.
Fiore thinks along similar lines. “I do not think that a policy of legalization is imminent in Brazil, but neither do I think it is entirely utopian. What I do believe is possible is that the public debate grow livelier with the input of the universities and social movements. Especially because it will draw our legislators closer to a reality from which, they, in truth, could not be more distant.”
Rio de Janeiro was also the scene of an “anti-manifesto” as locals contrary to legalization joined a march organized by Town Hall’s Drug Prevention Commission.
From Comunidad Segura:
Marcha da Maconha Brasil (In Portuguese)
Translated by Lis Horta Moriconi