Brazilian President Vetoes Landmark Legislation Decriminalizing Marijuana, Other Drugs

Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso vetoed legislation last week that would have replaced criminal penalties for marijuana possession and other drug offenses with alternative sentencing measures such as community service and civil fines.

Members of the Brazilian Congress had debated the drug liberalization provisions for 10 years before finally approving the measure in September. Brazil’s current anti-drug laws mandate that drug offenders, including those convicted of first-time marijuana offenses, go to jail for a period of up to two years. Brazilian drug-law reformers estimate that drug offenders now constitute approximately one-third of those who are sentenced to prison.

A spokesman for the President said that Cardoso vetoed the drug liberalization provisions because they were “unconstitutional.” However, the President did sign into law other provisions of the bill aimed at enhancing criminal penalties for drug traffickers.

Despite rejecting Congress’ “harm reduction” strategy, the President does back non-criminal sanctions for first-time drug offenders, his spokesman said. Cardoso is expected to introduce an alternative measure to Congress later this spring.

For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML at (202) 483-5500.