About the author: Jhone Carrinho is Local Coordinator of Students For Liberty Brasil, a researcher in the social sciences area, with research experience, focused in the sub-area of political impacts on the social body. Find him in [email protected] or linkedin.com/in/jhonecarrinho


The freest nation of all, since Nixon, despises the right to individual choice and ostensibly criminalizes the use of drugs. Mirroring such a political project, many other nations around the globe have copied these disastrous projects. Particular attention should be paid to Latin America, with a closer look at the Colombian and Brazilian issues.

Colombia and Brazil are the two countries where you can clearly see the disaster that occurred, in addition to institutionalized racism[1] (where you just need to have darker skin or live in a poorer neighborhood that is already considered a potential criminal[2], where black students who live in slums are searched just because they carry a school backpack on their backs[3]), where you see daily headlines from ordinary citizens who were convicted with harsh criminal penalties for possession of just a few grams of marijuana[4], while sons of judges caught with hundreds of pounds of the same drug were released by the justice system[5].

If you think about the war on drugs by today’s standards, which has special tools and weapons, such as rapid intervention forces that help arrest drug dealers in their homes, this is part of the Reagan initiative, started in the early 1980s, although Nixon was the first to declare a war on drugs, he was more comprehensive in his approach, for example in clinics where therapy was prevalent as a way to quit addiction and addicts were given methadone as a heroin substitute. asking for methadone and other treatment methods[6], in addition to other palliative treatments.

When cocaine appears on the scene and requires a completely different approach, from heroin for example, which makes managing this kind of addiction more difficult, it scares a lot of people, and here the response was much crueler and more violent.

It seems that the political orientation was based on transforming the market business according to wishful thinking and power of will. “If we are successful in setting foot on the moon, of course, we can eliminate drugs”, they might have thought. There was an emphasis on establishing “a drug-free America”, just saying no[7], plus a series of popular campaigns as “Mothers Against Drunk Driving”, which Reagan clung to, and promoted the drug as an ethnic failure[8].

Despite changes in the rhetoric, America’s response to the use of illicit drugs still focuses on arrests for non-violent crimes that occur due to drug addiction, and many of these arrests are made for possession of a small amount of drugs.  What are the practical values of this strategy?

Arresting drug users is meaningless unless drug use becomes a problem. Repeatedly arresting the user under the influence of narcotics who is invading a home to pay for their addiction does not solve the problem, we must stick to the treatment. It would be more effective to implement social recovery programs, programs that criminal justice does not pay due attention to. Will we have enough chains for prisoners sentenced for drug possession to use in the next decade?

There are specific and more fair penalties, which sometimes include monitoring or conditional release. These types of punishment models can be beneficial, but ideally, we do not arrest a person for using drugs, but for the consequences that result from using the drug of course. [In these cases] the use of the substance has spread to a problem area and the citizen commits crimes caused by addiction, putting his life and the lives of other people at risk, and it is at that moment that the state acts (to fulfill its role legitimized by the social contract, the protection of the individual and his property) in order to intervene and [not] correctly use corrective measures.

However, overall, you will find very few people in a society who deal with drug use policies and believe that arresting people for possession of a small amount is a reasonable solution to our drug problem, as is the case of the minister of the supreme federal court of Brazil, dr. Luís Roberto Barroso, who cites the unconstitutionality of the criminalization of possession for personal consumption since it violates the right to privacy, individual freedom, and the principle of proportionality at the same time[9].

There are creative solutions to some of these problems, some advocate full legalization, which solves the main problem but (according to the other side of the dispute) would create problems elsewhere. There is also a moderate approach to allowing the use of only a few drugs for medicinal or home recreation purposes.

Regardless of which model to adopt, we need a deep and concise reflection on the problem itself: “the war on drugs”. A century has passed and all we can do is kill and imprison people, the war on drugs kills more than drugs themselves[10]. In fact, it is a war against people, where those who die the most are the most vulnerable. The supposed problem of the use of narcotics has not been solved, on the contrary, it has worsened at critical levels, wherein in some places (like Brazil), it culminated in a civil war in the communities, where, on the one hand, we have traffickers and, on the one hand, another, the state apparatus, and a single practical result, the death of ordinary citizens.

The issue of drugs must be dealt with as never before, we need to approach it from the perspective of the rights of the individual. If we live in a free world, why criminalize choices? Shouldn’t the state offer support to the individual who wants treatment? How long will we accept the arrest of citizens with a few grams of marijuana (for example) and the release of the children of judges with hundreds of pounds of the same drug?

We fail, as a society we fail, as individuals we fail, as political beings we fail, when it comes to drug policy. The only thing we got right in the past half-century was to fail. Are we really more worthy of the term “rational beings”, when we are unable to reason to avoid a system that only serves to kill users of narcotics?

The problem is profound, sewn into the anatomy of the state, but in this 4/20, I invite everyone (politicians or not) to reflect on the last decade, have we killed enough or do we want to kill more people? Are we going to invest in prisons or schools? Where do we want to go in the next decade? After all, are all human beings born free and equal in dignity and rights[11]?

[1] HENRIQUE OLIVEIRA (org.). One police for the rich and one for the poor, but when was it different? Justifying: Restless minds think right. 28 aug. 2017. Available in: https://www.justificando.com/2017/08/28/uma-policia-para-os-ricos-e-outra-para-os-pobres-mas-quando-foi-diferente/. Access in: 16 apr. 2020.

[2] ARTHUR STABILE (org.). Family denounces disappearance of young black man after approaching policy. Ponte Jornalismo.02 jan. 2020. Available in: https://ponte.org/familia-denuncia-sumico-de-jovem-negro-apos-abordagem-da-pm/. Access in: 16 apr. 2020

[3] LUCIANA AMARAL. Globo Comunicação e Participações S.a. (org.). With hands on their heads, students in DF are searched by PMs during class. G1. 22 mai 2015. Available in: http://g1.globo.com/distrito-federal/noticia/2015/05/com-maos-na-cabeca-alunos-no-df-sao-revistados-por-pms-durante-aula.html. Access in: 16 apr. 2020.

[4] GLOBO COMUNICAÇÃO E PARTICIPAÇÕES S.A. (org.). Young man caught with 25 g of marijuana was accused of trafficking and arrested. G1.  jun. 2015. Available in: http://g1.globo.com/politica/noticia/2015/06/jovem-pego-com-25-g-de-maconha-foi-acusado-de-trafico-e-preso.html. Access in: 16 apr. 2020.

[5] GLOBO COMUNICAÇÃO E PARTICIPAÇÕES S.A. (org.). Son of judge arrested for drug trafficking is released in MS. Jornal Nacional.  jul. 2017. Available in: http://g1.globo.com/jornal-nacional/noticia/2017/07/filho-de-desembargadora-preso-por-trafico-de-drogas-e-solto-no-ms.html. Access in: 16 apr. 2020.

[6] CLAIRE BOWES. Qué buscaba originalmente la “Guerra contra las drogas” que el presidente de EE.UU. Richard Nixon declaró en 1971. Bbc World Service. 12 may 2019. Available in: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-internacional-48233762. Access in: 16 apr. 2020.

[7] Roberts, Sam (June 22, 2016). “Robert Cox, Man Behind the ‘Just Say No’ Antidrug Campaign, Dies at 78“. The New York Times.

[8] BATISTA, Nilo. Política criminal com derramamento de sangue. Discursos Sediciosos: crime, direito e sociedade, Rio de Janeiro, v. 3, n. 5-6, p. 77-94, 1 e 2 sem. 1998.

[9] TADEU ROVER. In debate in the US, Minister Barroso returns to defend decriminalization of marijuana. Revista Consultor Jurídico, 23 nov. 2016. Available in: <https://www.conjur.com.br/2016-set-23/eua-barroso-volta-defender-descriminalizacao-maconha>. Access in: 16 apr. 2020.

[10] War on drugs kills more than drugs themselves. Revista Consultor Jurídico. mar. 2015. Available in: <https://consultor-juridico.jusbrasil.com.br/noticias/223568123/guerra-as-drogas-mata-mais-que-as-proprias-drogas-como-bem-disse-maria-lucia-karam>. Access in: 16 apr. 2020.

[11] UNITED NATION. 1° article. In: UNITED NATION. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.