Brazil has the worst drug policy in the world, points out unprecedented ranking – 11/07/2021 – World

With more focus on repression than on public health, Brazil has the worst drug policy in the world, according to the Global Drug Policy Index, an unprecedented ranking published this Sunday (7) that assesses the way in which countries deal with the issue.

Among the 30 nations analyzed, Brazil is behind others that are much poorer, such as Uganda, which has one of the lowest HDIs in the world; with a history of heavy repression, such as Indonesia, where traffickers are subject to the death penalty; or at war for decades, in the case of Afghanistan.

At the other end, Norway, New Zealand, Portugal, the United Kingdom and Australia had the highest rated drug policies. The ranking is a project of the Harm Reduction Consortium, which includes drug research and harm reduction entities around the world, including the IDPC (International Drug Policy Consortium) — which, in turn, brings together more than 190 NGOs and is funded, among others, by the Open Society and UNODC (UN Office for Drugs and Crime).

The analysis established a score from 0 to 100 for each country, according to criteria such as the existence or not of the death penalty, decriminalization and financing of harm reduction policies. The ranking’s conclusion is that “the global dominance of drug policies based on repression and punishment has led to an overall low score.”

Norway, the highest rated country, scored 74 points; Brazil, in last place, 26. The global average was 48 points.

Four criteria were taken into account to give the final grade.

The first was the absence of extreme responses by the state, such as the death penalty, to crimes involving drugs. Three of the 30 countries analyzed use the expedient: India, Thailand and Indonesia — the first two, however, have not executed any prisoners in the last five years, while Joko Widodo’s government placed 214 people in the execution queue last year alone.

The prevalence of extrajudicial killings by law enforcement agents, on the other hand, has been recorded in a number of countries, such as Mexico. But only in Brazil was the problem considered endemic. The ranking also pointed out as being common the compulsory hospitalization of drug users, present, to different degrees, in 25 of the 30 nations evaluated.

Former director of the prison system in Rio de Janeiro and former police ombudsman, sociologist Julita Lemgruber says that “the war on drugs in Brazil has been an excuse for the police to kill young black people.”

“We looked at the United States and were shocked by the number of black people killed by the police, as in the case of George Floyd, who attracted attention and sparked a movement in the street,” he says. “Meanwhile, in Brazil the police kill 4,000 people a year, mostly black and young people, involved in the drug market.”

Out there

On an ascending curve, the number of deaths in police interventions in Brazil reached 6,416 in 2020, according to data from the Brazilian Public Security Forum.

The second ranking criterion was the proportionality of the justice system, including abuses committed within the criminal justice apparatus in the name of drug control —such as violence, torture and arbitrary arrests—, possibility of alternative sentences to imprisonment (present in almost all cases countries) or efforts to decriminalize.

Eight of the 30 countries have decriminalized the use and possession of drugs for personal consumption, including Costa Rica, Portugal, Jamaica and South Africa. Australia has similar legislation in some regions, as well as India, in the state of Sikkim — which it is home to less than 1% of the country’s population.

In South Africa, the decriminalization of the cultivation and private consumption of marijuana took place in 2018, after nearly a century of prohibition. The plant was already popular among traditional peoples since before the arrival of the first Europeans in the region, used in traditional medicine and religious practices.

“Planting was a knowledge passed down from generation to generation, on which entire communities depended,” says Philasande Mahlakata, an activist who advocates for the rights of small farmers in Mprimidoland, in the east of the country. The ban, according to her, burned plantations and destroyed lands that are no longer able to produce food as they used to, in addition to having forced migrations and provoked an increase in violence.

In the context of health and harm reduction, the third criterion analyzed, the study identified that, “positively, most countries’ policies and strategies explicitly support harm reduction”.

The problem is to get these policies off the paper. Funding for such services was considered adequate only in five countries: Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal and the United Kingdom. The index also points to gender, sexual orientation and ethnic inequality in access to harm reduction programs.

Finally, the last criterion analyzed in the ranking takes into account the access to controlled use of psychoactive drugs to reduce pain. The survey points out that richer countries have policies for the distribution of these drugs, while the poorest face lack of access to them.

China, land in the middle

Although at the top of the ranking appear some of the richest nations in the world, the association between income and the effectiveness of drug policies is not straightforward. Brazil, which is part of the G20 and has one of the largest GDPs in the world, for example, is behind Uganda, Nepal and Mozambique.

“There is a link between income and drug policy in some aspects, like access to medication, but at some point the responsiveness [às drogas] it detaches itself from the GDP”, says Matthew Wall, from Swansea University, in the United Kingdom.

For Marie Nougier of the IDPC (International Drug Policy Consortium), “it’s not just a question of rich countries versus poor countries, but of how governments choose to allocate their funds.”

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