Video of the Event | ‘Drug Policies and Development’, A Presentation for Brazil, Tuesday 1 December 2020
01 December 2020 | The online event “Drug Policies and Development: A Presentation for Brazil” was co-organized by the International Development Policy Journal, the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP), and Transnational Security Studies Center andProfessional Master in Global Governance at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP).
Brazil has experienced violent confrontations between criminal organizations trafficking drugs and law enforcement, with major unintended negative consequences on development objectives: increased HIV transmission; over-incarceration, and a large and powerful violent illegal market. Brazil also introduced major innovations in drug control, such as the Braços Abertos Program in Sao Paulo focused on a harm reduction approach. Furthermore, the National Health Agency recently regulated the medicinal cannabis market, although in a very restricted manner. The debate in Brazil is currently focused on the litigation concerning the decriminalization of drug use at the Supreme Court, and with the ongoing Congress debate of a broader regulation on industrial and medicinal cannabis. To bring in new perspectives to the discussion, this online event presented the findings of the special issue ‘Drug Policy and Development: Conflict and Coexistence’ and opened a discussion with national experts on the future of drug policy in Brazil.
This event was co-organised by the International Development Policy journal, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, Transnational Security Studies Center (PUC-SP), and the Professional Master in Global Governance, (PUC-SP).
Summary of the discussion | “Drug Policies and Development”, a presentation for Brazil.
Following up on the series of events surrounding the launch of the landmark publication “Drug Policies and Development: Conflict and Coexistence”, an online event addressing the findings of the future of drug policy in Brazil took place on 1 December 2020, co-organized by the International Development Policy journal, the Global Commission on Drug Policy and the Transnational Security Studies Center (PUC-SP).
Brazil, as many other countries in Latin America, has suffered violent confrontations between criminal drug trafficking organization and law enforcement, facing major unintended negative consequences on development objectives. The present event opened a discussion, with highly leading panellists, on the major innovations in drug control in Brazil, including the ongoing debate focused on the litigation concerning the decriminalization of drug use at the Supreme Court, and the debate in Congress of a broader regulation on industrial and medical cannabis.
The online event was introduced by Prof. Dr. Paulo J. R. Pereira, Coordinator of the Transnational Security Studies Center at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP), Brazil, moderated by Prof. Dr. Cláudia A. Marconi, Coordinator of the Professional Master in Global Governance at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP), Brazil. Speakers included Dr. Khalid Tinasti, Director of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) and Research and Teaching Fellow at the Global Studies Institute at the University of Geneva, Switzerland; Dr. Andrea Galassi, Coordinator of the Reference Center on Drugs and Associated Vulnerabilities at the University of Brasilia (UNB), Brazil; Dr. Luiz Guilherme Paiva, Researcher at the Center for the analysis of Liberty and Authoritarianism (LAUT), Brazil; and Prof. Joanne Csete, Associate Professor of Population and Family Health at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York, USA.
The discussion explored the impact of drug policies on development goals, not only in Brazil but also internationally. Dr Pereira opened the event stating that drug prohibition, often with racist undertones and repressive policies, disproportionately impacts and weakens impoverished the countryside and cities. And also that under the current Brazilian government, progressive drug policies, whether about cannabis or any other drug, are under constant threat; however, there are great efforts in society trying to resist this threat and promote alternative and evidence-based approaches.
Dr. Khalid Tinasti outlined the work he has carried out, linking drug policies and neopatrimonial regimes. He mentioned that part of his work has focused on how drug policies are used to influence political competition and political participation, departing from the very perspective of what drug policy means or how it has been implemented in the Global South, such as in the case of Brazil.
Currently, different Latin American countries such as Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Argentina, unlike Brazil, have legislation regarding the permission to grow cannabis for medical uses, as Dr. Galassi explained. She explained that in 2018, a reform of the Brazilian legislation was approved, allowing the importation of cannabis for medical uses, however, she said that the cultivation of cannabis in Brazil is still far from being allowed, which is an obstacle to scientific research and consequently effective treatments for patients.
Dr. Paiva told us that illegal markets and drug markets are not inherently violent. He explained that the associated violence has been the result of different market dynamics and State oppressions. Giving the example of the particularity of Brazil, he argued that sometimes violent and non-violent drug retail can coexist in the same neighborhood, however, he pointed out that political and State institutions are not necessarily cognizant of these drug market dynamics, encouraging systematic racism in both police and criminal justice.
In addition, Prof. Csete referred to the Covid-19 crisis as an example of how structural inequalities and fundamental flaws in public health policies still exist in many countries around the world. She mentioned that it is sometimes easier for those in power to politicize an issue, than it is to base policies on scientific evidence, and that of course this is a persistent phenomenon in drug policy where we frequently see that well-established scientists are rejected by policymakers in favour of motivations such as being tough on crime, even when those policies that they enforce are not only ineffective but deadly to many people. Finally, she explained that these decades of ill-conceived and wrongly motivated policies in many countries have resulted in undermining health development and violating human rights.
The panel discussion, was followed up by a lively discussion, with questions submitted by audience members and moderated by Dr Claudia Marconi. Prof. Joanne Csete was asked about how to initiate a dialogue on alternative drug policies, especially in situations where a large number of prisoners have been punished for drug-related offenses, giving the example of Sri Lanka. Prof. Csete mentioned that she has addressed this particular challenge in the past by documenting the positive experience of countries that have taken progressive measures around drug control, however, she highlighted that it is still a very difficult topic and far from being perfect. Other questions submitted to the panellists allowed to deepen the debate about the contemporary and future Brazilian and other Global South countries drug policy challenges.