Brazilian chamber of deputies to vote on stricter new drug law

Last week, the Brazilian chamber of deputies moved forward a law project that aims to make substantial changes on the existing law on drug policies and the treatment given to drug users, in favor of a far more strict and punishing approach.

Almost at the same time, while at the United Nation’s Drugs Comitee Annual Meeting, Brazilian ex-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, president of the Global Commission on Drug Policies, signed a document according to which repression and militarization have proven not to be working, and drug policies around the globe should rather be rooted on public health grounds.

Deputy Osmar Terra’s proposal has 33 amends to be made on the already existing law. Compulsory admission into rehab centers, a new classification of drugs into categories, the increase of minimum jail sentences for drug dealing and the drive of public money into private drug treatment centers (mostly owned by religious institutions) are some of the ones that have attracted more criticism.

A number of NGOs and Human Rights campaigners have manifested against the project. They say the commission responsible for the project has no scientific basis to make the new drugs classification, nor the system is transparent enough so to assure public money will go to the right institutions (Deputy Givaldo Carimbão – seconder of the project – is assumedly connected with Catholic groups some of which run institutions that would potencialy receive the money). Also in line with Cardoso’s view, they claim that compulsory admissions and harder punishments have been implemented before elsewhere and have always failed to cause any good effect.

As for the jail sentences increase, critics argue that this will only add numbers to the already over the limit jailed population in the country (last year, Minister of Justice José Eduardo Cardozo stated: “if I were ever to spend time in some of these institutions as an inmate I would rather kill myself”). Also, because the line that defines drug dealing and drug must be determined by the court on a case by case basis, what happens in practice is that only the poorer will end up being sentenced for longer terms, as they can rarely prove that whatever drug quantity they may be caught with is for personal use.

For former Minister of Justice Pedro Abromovay, Mr Osmar Terra’s proposal is “disastrous”. “Increasing the minimum sentences will only strengthen organized crime, as chances are that many drug users will end up spending a lot longer in jail and getting trapped by it.” Still according to Abromovay, 60% of convicted criminals for drug dealing have no connection with organized criminal groups at the time they are sent to jail, thou become close to them once they are in.