09/18/2012 09:07 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2012

Pense Livre: A New Drug Policy Initiative to be Launched in Brazil

On September 18 in Sao Paulo Brazil a new network called "Pense Livre" (Think Free) is being launched. Pense Livre will assemble more than 60 Brazilian leaders to discuss the best practices to reduce damage and violence associated with drug policy.

The Pense Livre Network will aim to promote a broad and critical debate on drug policy. It will bring together more than 60 young leaders from across Brazilian society which will include business people, journalists, filmmakers, doctors, psychologists, activists, researchers and lawyers.

The launch will be open to the public and will be webcast live from 7 to 9:30 pm at the Itau Cultural Institute in Sao Paulo. The event will feature presentations by selected members of Pense Livre including personal statements on the dynamics of drug policy and their personal involvement and the role of the media in the issue. The closing statement will be issued by former President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

"The Pense Livre Network is aware of the complexity of the drug issue. They acknowledge that the current policy of criminalizing drug users does more damage to individuals and to society than drug use itself. For this reason, the group stands for innovation and the development of better practices based on scientific evidence and successful international experience. Only then we will begin to break the vicious cycle of marginalization, corruption, incarceration and violence that results from a repressive approach to controlling drugs", explains Ilona Szabo de Carvalho, Pense Livre's co-founder and executive director of IgarapÈ Institute, an NGO based in Rio de Janeiro that coordinates the network.

Pense Livre Network promotes a positive agenda with four main objectives:

Decriminalize the use of all drugs and invest in prevention and a public health approach for problematic users: Decriminalization is the first step for genuinely changing drug policy. This is because the criminalization of drug users results in overpopulated prisons and the diversion of resources away from medical and psycho-social treatment for drug addicts. The Pense Livre Network believes that the decriminalization of drug use should be supported by honest education and a wide range of harm reduction and treatment programs provided by the public health system.

• Regulate the medical use of cannabis and allow cannabis cultivation for personal consumption: Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in Brazil and the cause of a large proportion of Brazil's prison population. The Pense Livre Network believes that private cultivation is a practical way to de-link users from organized criminals. There is good evidence to back up such a policy. From a scientific perspective, cannabis causes less damage to users than most common legal drugs, including alcohol or tobacco. Cannabis's medicinal properties are proven and already benefit millions of patients in countries around the world.

• Invest in programs for youth at risk, including the meaningful reintegration of teenagers convicted for small-scale drug dealing and alternative sentencing for first time non-violent offenders. The fact is that Brazil's juvenile justice and prison system is over-loaded. Instead of filling them even more, what is needed are programs that instead create conditions for rescuing marginalized Brazilian youth from a life of crime. This will require a social pact that ensures education and assistance programs and real genuine opportunities for at-risk youngsters to join the labor market.

• Support scientific research on all illegal drugs in order to develop informed and targeted programs that promote harm reduction and treatment. In Brazil and other countries, the barriers for medical research on illicit substances present a major obstacle to the development of effective public and mental health programs. The Pense Livre Network encourages a more progressive approach from Brazilian authorities.

"The proposals of the Pense Livre Network are the result of an ongoing process of learning, debate and consensus building among a group of people with distinctive professional trajectories and political points of view. Our positive agenda indicates that a wide cross-section of Brazilian society is willing to discuss how to improve how we deal with the drug issue", says Ilona Szabo de Carvalho.