The Brazilian Commission on Drugs and Democracy was launched last week in Rio de Janeiro. This initiative by IDPC member ,VivaRio, is a national follow-up to the recent Latin American Commission and is bringing together a wide range of public figures and experts to discuss new approaches to Brazil’s drug problem. Brazil’s drug market is characterised by high levels of street violence, that has traditionally been tackled through tough enforcement, but shows no sign of diminishing. The general public are tired of this level of violence and gangsterism, and broadly support a tough response, but there is a growing recognition that more sophisticated and balanced strategies need to be considered. The Commission aims to promote public debate on these alternatives, and produce recommendations for more effective policy.

VivaRio and IDPC also used this visit to engage directly with the current government to discuss what policy changes may be possible in the remaining year of the Lula administration. Mike Trace and Rubem Cesar Fernandes met with four Ministers (Health, Justice, Human Rights, and Environment) to discuss the possibility of increasing health and social programmes for dependent drug users, and law enforcement reform. They also discussed the key principles for a proposed reform of the Brazilian drug law, so as to get away from the current situation where the majority of arrests and harsh punishments are directed at low lever user/dealers, where the more violent and powerful dealers remain untouched. IDPC is arranging for legal experts in our network to provide ongoing advice to the officials in Brasilia as they draft the new law.