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What Happened to Brazil’s Ruling on Drug Decriminalization?

Despite news last year suggesting Brazil's Supreme Court would rule imminently on whether the country should decriminalize low-level possession and use of drugs, all seems to have gone quiet. What happened? 

In August 2015, we were among those who published such articles, noting how the Supreme Court were discussing decriminalization against the backdrop of a growing chorus of voices calling for drug law reform. After the first three of the Court's 11 justices voted in favor of decriminalization in September, all looked set to move forward. 

However, upon reaching the fourth vote, the minister whose hands the decision was in, Teori Zavascki, requested suspension of the case until he had firmed up his position on the issue. Since then, one of Brazil's biggest ever political scandals — which has seen impeachment proceedings brought against President Dilma Rousseff — has ramped up considerably, and thus preoccupied the Court's time. 

The move to debate decriminalization came after public defenders in Sao Paulo brought forward the 2009 case of an inmate from a Sao Paulo prison who was caught with cannabis, adding drug possession to his list of committed crimes. The defenders appealed, arguing that the inclusion of this crime was unconstitutional due to a breach of the right of privacy.

With judicial efforts currently focused on corruption scandals, there is no estimated date for the decriminalization debate returning to the Supreme Court's agenda. Each minister must vote on the issue and with right remaining votes to be cast, progress will be slow.

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