The "hard line" and "getting off the hook": practical effects of the new drug law in Rio de Janeiro

This article analyzes the effects of the new drug law on legal repression of drug use and formal trial of cases that appear before the criminal justice system. We seek to understand the practice of the actors involved in social and legal control of drug use and to elucidate the dynamics of negotiations of criminal charges against users, in light of the debate on the changes brought about by new legislation. There has been a reduction in the number of criminal charges related to drug use, something which cannot explained by legal changes alone by the notion that this crime has gained new interpretation. We argue here that the lack of interest in criminal charges for drug use has left it in the hands of the military police who ostentively patrol city streets. They have gained an implicit mandate to negotiate whether users are arrested or not, and even acquire influence over what type of penal classification is imputed. The imprecise nature of the legal criteria employed to distinguish users and dealers, together with the immense disparity in the sentences given for these crimes which the new law accentuates, contribute to informal negotiation of greater or lesser charges and reifies police stereoptypes, favoring arbitrariness. This indefinition is not a result of imprecise law, but of the empirical impossibility to draw a clear-cut line between types of classifications

drug use; new Drug Law; institutional management of conflict; social control; political commodity

Universidade Federal do Paraná Rua General Carneiro, 460 - sala 904, 80060-150 Curitiba PR - Brasil, Tel./Fax: (55 41) 3360-5320 - Curitiba - PR - Brazil