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January 17, 2002

Narco News '02

Legal Samba

Brazil's March Toward

Humane Drug Policies

By Luis A. Gómez

Narco News Andean Bureau Chief

(Meet Luis Gómez)

On January 11th, Brazilian president Fernando Cardoso signed the new anti-drug law that, one step from being approved in the coming days in the nation's Congress, will become the most advanced law of its kind in Latin America, because, among other things, it makes a clear distinction between a drug trafficker and an addict.

Previously, due to a law passed in 1976 and enforced in the entire Federated Republic of Brazil, anyone found in possession of drugs (even for personal consumption) could be accused of being a narco-trafficker and faced a sentence of Three-to-15-years in prison. Now, thanks to the modifications approved by the President, the judge will be able to sentence the accused to medical or psychiatric treatment, or to community service, instead of going to jail.

However, President Fernando Cardoso did not approve the bill, sponsored by federal Congressman José Elias Murad, a professional chemist and pharmacist, in its entirety. In some cases, as with the First Article of the bill, the president used his veto power and rejected a large part of the first version of the bill. Beyond that, on the theme of making a distinction between narcos and people will illnesses, Article 42 of the new anti-drug law was amended by the president because, in his opinion, it was problematic: Judges would have been able to suspend cases (and consequent penalties) if they considered that the convict was an addict that could be rehabilitated medically. That seemed, to Cardoso, to be excessive.

And it's not all smiles, kind readers, because in Brazil there are also dark forces that don't want a new and more humane and flexible law. The judges and the prosecutors have begun a crusade against the new anti-drug law and are asking President Cardoso and the Congress to veto it completely. Why? It's simple: If the penalties are made flexible and the alternative measures become as important as prison sentences, the judges and prosecutors believe that this will affect the police role against drug trafficking. IN addition, one judge told the daily Folha de Sao Paulo (January 10, 2002) that, if the law is approved, with so many "benefits" for the accused, then the government of Brazil has demonstrated its lack of confidence in the judicial and penal systems to punish.

In one simple and lucid article published in the daily O Povo de Ceará ("The People of Ceará) on January 15th, Congressman José Elías Murad defended his bill. One of the concepts that stood out in his text was the modern legal definition he called "therapeutic justice." That is to say, the possibility of rerouting an accused person toward the medical path, leaving prison behind: "An addict is ILL, he is not a narco-trafficker, and that is how he should be treated." Another important issue is that in the bill's original version, Murad put the matter of determining if a person captured with drugs is an addict or a narco into the hands of toxicology experts; it will no longer be a question of what quantity of drug a person has on him, but rather, the relationship of that drug with the health of the accused. A grand advance, no?

But it remains to be seen if the Brazilian Congress will take the great leap and approve a dignified and just law. If not, as José Elías Murad says, a "repressive and retrograde mentality" will prevail among the authorities of his country. For now, we await the chain of events. No doubt, in the very near future, we will keep you informed of how this story develops.

Éste articulo en Español

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...and the new guy translates Portuguese, too?