Former Brazilian President Calls for the Elimination of Criminal Penalties on Cannabis

Posted: November 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

Wall Street Journal reporter Mary Anastasia O’Grady interviewed former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso last week, and he explained to her why he believes ending the war on cannabis would lead to reduced levels of drug use, less violence, and more international stability:

Mr. Cardoso explains that as president he used traditional methods of “repression and prevention” to fight the drug problem. He is quick to add that neither worked. “Eradication was a failure,” he says. Even though marijuana plants were destroyed—the government proudly took pictures of its handiwork—”later on, again, the crops were there.” Meanwhile, the state made an “insufficient” effort toward prevention, in part because Brazil’s drug problem “was not that bad at the time.”


Mr. Cardoso maintains that it is time for change. He points to the successful experience of some European states where marijuana has been decriminalized so that the recreational use of pot is permitted and addicts are treated.

Portugal is one example, he says. There, spiraling rates of marijuana consumption prior to decriminalization have been reversed. His own interviews—and the broader data—show that a combination of education, treatment and decriminalization, which makes marijuana no longer a forbidden temptation among the young, explains why use is no longer going up.

There are other benefits to decriminalization. By eliminating the need to chase marijuana consumers, Mr. Cardoso says, the state can focus on fighting organized crime. And those gangsters are likely to have fewer customers.

As it stands now “the young people have to enter into contact with drug traffickers to buy marijuana and the traffickers will induce the young people to jump from marijuana to hard drugs because they are more profitable. So you have to break the contact,” he argues. There is also the problem that Brazilian prisons are brimming with inmates serving time for trafficking because they were caught with amounts of pot above the legal limit. Decriminalization would reduce rates of incarceration and the large number of lives ruined by prison systems that teach people how to become criminals.

Mr. Cardoso accepts that “the question is a political question.” But he doesn’t expect politicians in Washington or Brasilia to provide the answer. “To my mind what is important is civil society being involved in this discussion. I don’t view the state being even capable of change without strong pressure from civil society.”

Cardoso is unfortunately right that leadership on cannabis policy will not come from leaders in government, which is why we are taking the issue straight to the people of Missouri with a ballot initiative. If the politicians refuse to do the right thing at the top, we will push them towards it from below.


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