For Brazil, Decriminalizing Drugs Would Only Be a Partial Step Toward Justice

Decriminalizing drugs in Brazil would be a step forward for human rights, but the country still has to contend with its police.

Brazil’s Supreme Court justices are steadily issuing their votes in a seminal case that could determine whether or not the country will decriminalize the personal possession of drugs. Three of the 11 justices have voted in favor of decriminalization—two just for marijuana, one for all drugs—while a fourth last week gave himself more time to decide. Six votes are needed for decriminalization to succeed.

The votes cast so far suggest, at first glance, that the global trend toward a public-health approach to drug policy has reached Brazil but the country’s drug laws make the picture a bit more complicated. While the trend toward decriminalization or full legalization—as seen in Uruguay, Portugal, Ireland, and several states in the U.S.—has certainly informed the Brazilian Supreme Court, a ruling for a...

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