BRASILIA — The Brazilian government doesn't like to talk about it publicly, but top officials are worried about the impact that Uruguay's decision to legalize the production and sale of marijuana — the first nation to do so — will have on its larger neighbor to the north.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff talked about it privately with her Uruguayan counterpart José Mujica on his visit last month to Brasília. Specifically, she told him that while she understood and respected the domestic debate, she also expressed her fear that the effects could drift over the border into Brazil.
Mujica explained that Uruguay wouldn't become a new Amsterdam, the world's best-known destination for so-called "drug tourism," and assured her that all necessary controls would be set up to prevent the law — which bans non-residents from buying cannabis — from being abused.
Still, despite Mujica's promises, Brazil is preparing to step up its controls of people and luggage, should the predictions come true of a rising numbers of passengers travelling to and from Uruguay.
Brazil's federal police will file charges of international drug trafficking against anybody who tries to enter the country with any quantity of marijuana. The usual sentence for narcotics traffic — between three and 10 years in jail — will be boosted by a maximum of six years in any case where the "transnationality of the crime" is proven.
In the meantime, nobody foresees exactly how the new law in Uruguay will change how the trafficking flows. Paraguay is expected to remain the main producer of marijuana in Latin America, with federal police estimates citing as much as 95% of the cannabis that enters Brazil coming from its western neighbor.
When asked whether "the trend would spread" of legalization, Brazilian Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo said that "each country must follow the path that it believes is fair, according to its own reality."
Meanwhile Health Minister Alexandre Padilha insisted that the Uruguayan decision shouldn't have any impact on Brazil public health. "Brazilian law doesn't criminalize users anymore. The challenge we're facing now is to establish a safety net for people who are victims of drug abuse, especially crack," he explained.
Experts note that Uruguay's marijuana decision is only one of many measures taken in an attempt to fight against rising violence in the country. "Instead of replying with armored vehicles, riot police and robocops, they chose to focus on prevention and to take a progressive approach to tackle the issue," sociologist Cláudio Beato said. "The legalization of the production and sale of marijuana is merely one part of this strategy."