Brazil Health Ministry Writes Decriminalization Law
According to the Ministry, the current law treats the consumer as a criminal and impedes access to treatment
By Luciana Constantino and Iuri Dantas
Folha de São Paulo, Brasília Bureau
April 17, 2003
Publisher’s Note: These articles, from the April 14, 2003, edition of Folha de São Paulo, are translated gratis by Narco News, without any financial charge to the reader, without sale of advertising, or any other commercial motive, and are made freely available for educational purposes to readers who seek out this information. To subscribe to Folha de São Paulo, see: http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/fsp/
Neither prison nor forced hospitalization: The use of drugs could stop being a crime, ending the possibility that the user could go to prison or be forced into medical facilities. The proposal is defended by the Health Ministry, which tries to treat the user through the lens of public health instead of that of the police as occurs today.
The idea of decriminalization is written in a document – “The Health Ministry’s policy for holistic attention to users of alcohol and other drugs” – now in its final version, and obtained by the daily Folha.
Independently from the changes in legislation, that currently marks the use of drugs as a crime, these directions will be implemented to also attend to those dependent upon alcohol.
“The rigor of the current criminal laws on drugs causes unfavorable conditions for access to health programs and participation in programs by drug users, having established use as ‘prohibited,’ and suggesting that users hide,” the Health Ministry states in its document.
The Ministry proposes a change in attitude by authorities in relation to drug users. This would mean, in practice, that a person who is found by police with a marijuana cigarette would not go to jail.
On the other hand, the prohibition on the sale of illicit drugs, like marijuana and cocaine, would remain in force. Congress would legislate the distinction between the user and the dealer.
The document also forwards as an “unprecedented” goal to formulate “policies that can deconstruct the common view that every drug user is a sick person who requires intervention, prison, or aquittal.”
“This is the more pragmatic and productive alternative, compared to possible punishment for unaccepted behaviors. In this sense, it is fundamental that we work to adopt a non-criminal policy toward users, that fights for promotion of holistic attention to them,” said Paulo Macedo, of the Health Ministry.
The psychiatrist Ronaldo Laranjeira, president of the Brazilian Association for the Study of Alcohol and Other Drugs, criticized the proposal. “These people prefer an easier debate, to change the law, because the Health Ministry has not complied with its duty for years, which is to offer good treatment.” For him, “it is scary” to decriminalize drug use without national studies about the profile of users and the impact this change in policy would bring.
The ideas contained in the Ministry’s document form part of a debate inside the government to define a new National Anti-Drug Policy (PNAD, in bureaucrat-speak). President Lula da Silvia will have the final word.
In May, Lula must send the Workers Party (PT, in its Portuguese initials) version of the PNAD to Congress. Other Ministries and the SENAD (National Anti-Drug Secretary) will make proposals to the president of the Republic.
The current PNAD was elaborated by then-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso in November of 2001 and, according to specialists, seeks “abstinence” in place of regulation. The Health Ministry’s project also criticizes the current policy for associating the use of drugs with criminality and for offering treatment inspired on models that exclude the user from social life.
Among the problems in the current policy outlined by the Ministry are the publicity campaigns that “reinforce the common view that every consumer is marginal and dangerous to society.” This is not the first time that legislation could be introduced to end punishment of the user. The text of the Anti-Drug Law, proposed by Cardoso in January 2002, proposed the decriminalization of use, but the same president vetoed it.
The National Anti-Drug Policy, created months beforehand, put users into forced treatment called “therapeutic justice.” With that, a judge can lead the user into treatment instead of sentencing him to prison.
The United States government defends this option, and insists on the eradication of drugs. In January, a spokesman of the U.S. State Department praised the conduct of the anti-drug policy of Brazil. He also said that consumption of drugs was growing in this country.
One of the Health Ministry’s “weapons” to counter the current policy would be the implementation, on a large scale, of CAPS (Centers for Psycho-Social Attention). There would be centers offering daily attention and services to the community and that would seek in a methodical manner to change the common opinions about drug users. That is to say, it would change the focus of preventative campaigns by eliminating the association of drug use and also of alcohol with delinquency and marginality.
The goal would be avoid the social segregation of drug consumers, that, thus, would have easier access to treatment.
The Workers Party Has Already Opposed the SENAD
By the Brasília Bureau of Folha de São Paulo
The SENAD (National Anti-Drug Secretary) has already faced shots fired from the bases of the Workers Party prior to the assuncion of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to Planalto Palace.
The party’s Public Security program would transfer control of the SENAD, that currently reports directly to the president, to the Justice Ministry (see related Narco News story: Brazil Attorney General Wants Drugs Decriminalized). The change is only “a matter of time,” according to Attorney General Márcio Thomaz Bastos.
As the Anti-Drug Secretary is in charge of prevention, the government seeks that the work of repression – responsibility of the Federal Police – be coordinated with prevention and that it all be subordinated to the Ministry of Thomaz Bastos.
On another front, the Armed Forces want to maintain the status quo. The high command of the Army endorses the work of General Paulo Uchôa at the head of the SENAD as positive. Under its proposal, the work of the SENAD would be coordinated by the military and its officials as a sign of the prestige the government gives that branch.
From another point of view, the presence of military officials in the Anti-Drug Secretariat creates a stigma of repression and that frightens drug users. That image prevents projects of the SENAD from being effective.
Here, still, is another factor: The praise by Washington of the work of the SENAD collides with the desires of the militants of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), historically linked to the Workers Party, that defends the regulation of drug use.
Dr. Higino Wolff Bodziak, coordinator of the Sobriety Council of the Catholic Church, endorsed the work of prevention of treatment, and said an information campaign would also be important, in the mold of what was done on the AIDS issue, for example. “Today, the youths protect themselves against illness. In the case of drugs, these people need to know the risks,” he affirmed.
The Proposal Suggests Legalization, says General
By Local Reporters, Folha de São Paulo
While saying that he doesn’t want to “take sides,” the National Anti-Drug Secretary, General Paulo Uchôa, anticipates the debate over the proposal by the Health Ministry and criticizes it overnight.
“We have a series of points to consider before saying ‘I want this.’ One of them is that decriminalization would be the first step toward legalization. It remains to be seen if the populace wants this,” he said.
“Science knows that some drugs can destroy the human body. Could it be that society would forgive this? If we decriminalize use, production would be legalized – and society would consider trafficking as a victimless crime.”
For that reason, the SENAD is preparing to coordinate a debate. According to Uchôa, his agency won’t take a definitive position. “That has to come with debate, with a more serious tone.”
The general tackled the decriminalization proposal during a seminar organized by his agency at the end of last month.
Brazil is signator to a serious of United Nations conventions and treaties that require the punishment of users, says Uchôa. The most recent treaties allow alternatives to prison. The Secretary supports changes in Brazilian law to guarantee the application of alternative sentencing.
Portugal, a country that also signed those conventions, recently decriminalized drug use. “They are currently studying a revision of this measure,” said the General.
Ten Years of Waiting
By Fabiana Leite
Folha de São Paulo
“We have favored a change in the law for ten years,” says Dartiu Xavier da Silveira, director of the Orientation and Assistance Program of the Federal University of São Paulo. He participated in the group that made the decriminalization proposal that was vetoed by the previous government. “The policy of decriminalization can not be confused with one stimulating drug use. It would facilitate treatment. It is not a general legalization.”
According to Xavier, studies in countries with this policy demonstrate that the number of users rose initially, but not the number of addicts. And a policy of social inclusion of the addict has diminished health problems, “such as rates of infection by the HIV virus commonly associated with AIDS,” and involvement with crime, he said, demonstrating some of the studies made outside of the country.
“I am not against decriminalization of use. It should be the job of the Health Ministry to develop treatment and prevention programs. Instead of this, they propose something that could increase the number of users,” said Arthur Guerra de Andreade, director of the Drugs and Alcohol Study Group of the University of São Paulo.
Narco News is funded by your contributions to The Fund for Authentic Journalism.
Please make journalism like this possible by going to The Fund's web site
and making a contribution today.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism
For more Narco News, click here.