Drug Policies

How activism drives politics in Brazil

Activism is important to change laws and structures that we disagree with.  Fighting for fairer drug policies is one of the only ways to continue changing the unfair laws in Brazil. Want to know a little more about it? Come with us!

Whenever we talk about politics and history, we bring data and evidence that cannabis was part of the history and the formation of some civilizations. It was used both as a medicine and in sacred or religious rituals, providing an opportunity for meditation and greater connection to the land. Believing in a cannabis-free planet is unrealistic. In a world where we have so many prohibitionist laws and advertisements related to a plant that was already here even before us, these cannabis activism movements gain strength – trying to rescue the right to access these secular traditions.

This fight for social justice is what gives meaning to many people’s lives. After all, we are in a country where a large part of the most vulnerable and marginalized population is an active target of prohibitionist segregation. Furthermore, how to watch, with crossed arms, so many lives being taken by a false “war on drugs”, and so many others without the proper quality due to the lack of a medication that should be accessible to everyone?

It is around all these issues that cannabis activism gains strength in Brazil and in the world. Shall we talk more about this?

Cannabis movement

Brief history of prohibitionism

As we have already said here, prohibitionism appears in modern society, more precisely in the second decade of the 20th century, with way more complex explanations than being a public health issue. We haven’t had a major scientific study that has concluded the dangers of cannabis – on the contrary, old studies were already beginning to prove the therapeutic uses of the plant, but other major interests have molded prohibitionism as we know it today.

Brazil was the first country in the world to have a prohibitionist mention. That happened in 1830, in Rio de Janeiro. In a post-abolitionist society, when the elite did not want to give opportunities to the black people, nor to respect the culture and their traditions, several Afro-descendant expressions were prohibited. Cannabis, also called “pito de pango”, was banned, as capoeira (afro-brazilian martial art), candomblé (afro-brazilian religion) and samba. All this activities were banned from the street, considered a crime of loitering.

The first prohibitionist mention that happened internationally was in 1912, at the International Opium Convention. Italy and the United States took the lead in the prohibitionist discourse. Next, Egypt also took a stand against cannabis. India claimed that there was cultural and religious use of the substance in its country. Disagreements within the committee ended in 1925, when the substance was discouraged, and its export for non-medical use prohibited.

In 1930, important institutions for the control of drugs were created in the United States: the famous FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) and the FBN (Federal Bureau of Narcotics, or Federal Agency of Narcotics). In 1937, possession, use and cultivation of cannabis was officially prohibited throughout the United States by President Roosevelt’s Marihuana Tax act. In Brazil, cannabis was federally prohibited in 1932.

Social control mechanism

The term “social control mechanism” was created by Michel Foucault, who states that the criminal process as a whole serves as a support for one class to criminalize the other class. Foucault points out how the prison system serves as a control apparatus based on the term “useful delinquency”. According to the author, useful delinquency is a form of surveillance, which works in harmony with the prison system to control the population.

If in Brazil cannabis was associated with the habits of the black community, in the United States the plant was linked to Mexicans, who migrated legally and illegally to the country in search of better working conditions. Facts like this shows how far the prohibition goes beyond the health issue, and can be a way to prohibit rituals and habits of specific populations. In short, to prohibit its culture and practices, and to make traits of it illegal, is precisely to enter the item of “useful delinquency”. Impressive how the control was disguised with a careful speech, right?

The media strengthened this discourse in several countries around the world with the propaganda they pushed. The role of the media was fundamental in building the image of the population and to shape the public opinion against immigrants, black people and cannabis itself. Information has a very important role, as it can alienate, but it can also bring people closer to some knowledge. And that is why we, from Girls in Green, share information with you. We believe in the potential for change that information can bring!

Going back to the twentieth century, counterculture movements, which are very important for minority struggles, began to emerge because not all of the population accepted these mechanisms that were forcefully imposed.

Cannabis movement

Counterculture movements

Counterculture movements appeared worldwide at a post-war moment, when several structures, mainly patriarchal, were being questioned. Within this, other movements were born, the most famous being the hippie movement. These people wanted peace – at the same time, they no longer wanted to remain silent and just agree with all the attitudes of the State.

The feminist awakening was fundamental for the emergence of these movements, which were also fighting for the rights of homosexuals and the end of racism – that in many countries happened even whitin institutions.

1968, also known as the year that never ended, was marked by student manifestations around the world and in Brazil, at the time under dictatorship. AI-5, the most authoritarian measure of the Brazilian military dictatorship, came in response to student movements in the same year. However, the fight didn’t stop – on the contrary. The movements became more organized and demanded an end to the dictatorship, freedom of expression and the right to protest.

The anti-prohibitionist movement is part of the counterculture movements, and gains strength when a portion of the population is able to perceive the political and economic motivations behind The War on Drugs wars. Another issue was the understanding that the consequences of the so-called drug war – such as mass incarceration, especially of the black population – are worse than the effects of the drugs themselves.

Many anti-prohibitionist movements fight for the creation of a legal and regulated market, where substances are safe to use, the access is safe, State (or private companies) can make money, with taxes, on the production chain and in the sale of cannabis. How ironic to think that this is already happening in the country that faced prohibitionism and created the term “war on drugs”, right? But in the United States, in some states where cannabis is legalized, tax revenues reach $ 70 million annually.

The fight for a more just and inclusive drug legislation is also based on the individual’s freedom and autonomy. We know that cannabis has different effects on each person, but we believe in everyone’s ability to decide what is best for them (especially after having lots of information on the subject)! Not forgetting that the herb has also numerous therapeutic properties, which for many years have not been properly researched and used because of prohibitionism.

Currently, we are returning to the debate on medical cannabis and we are closer than ever to legalization at the federal level, but the fight for free and accessible medicines for the entire population is still necessary. All activism should not be only within the academic sphere and the privileged white elite. The most vulnerable and affected by the war on drugs are the black and peripheral populations, and it is for them and for them that the struggles must take place.

Following this line of reasoning, the “National Network of Collectives and Activists for the Legalization of Marijuana” changed its name to “National Network of Collectives and Anti-Prohibition Activists” – RENCA Antiproibicionista, which includes anti-asylum fights, for the harm reduction, for therapeutic use of psychoactive substances, criminal abolitionism, demilitarization of police and life and LGBT, anti-racist and feminist fights.

At first it may seem like disconnected causes, but we need to take into account that women are the main ones affected by prohibitionism. Drugs related offences incarcerates 60% of women imprisoned in Brazil – in most cases, this arrest is a consequence of the actions of their male partners. Even so, being an activist is mostly a male setting, and it’s difficult for a woman to occupy this space. Therefore, the anti-prohibitionist fight is also a feminist fight.

Apepi patients association walking trough the movement

Activist movements in Brazil

Being an activist is not only about going to protests and being part of an educational movement, It can be linked to a political movement or it can be part of everyday life. Advocating for a cause can start from home, changing their habits and way of living, or on the street. Let’s talk a little about these activist movements:

The Cannabis March, which gained strength especially after 2011, when the Supreme Federal Court considered the demonstrations to be part of the right of expression and not an apology on drugs, is a group made from other advocacy groups. This is because the March does not have a hierarchical leadership and covers several movements.

The Brazilian Association of Medicinal Cannabis Patients (AMA + ME) is another important name for activism in Brazil, as it is an association that brings together patients and collaborates with universities and research in the field of medical cannabis. Their objective is to produce and fight for the access of medical cannabis, with adequate quality control and low cost.

Abrace, the Brazilian Association of Medicinal Cannabis and Hope, is also fighting for access to treatments based on medical cannabis. The association welcomes patients, providing information and support for them to start treatment using medical cannabis. The institution also has definitive authorization to grow plants rich in CBD and THC for medicinal purposes and to produce the cannabis oil, and also offers legal support to members.

APEPI, Association for Support to Research and Medicinal Cannabis Patients, came up with the union of mothers of children and young people with epilepsy or other seizure-causing diseases. Many of these mothers face an enormous challenge to control their children’s crises and seizures with conventional remedies. Today, APEPI unites family members of patients, patients and everyone who believes in the therapeutic use of cannabis. The association fights for new legislation, which allows greater access, more research and greater individual freedom, with the main objective of guaranteeing every Brazilian the right to information and access to treatment with medical cannabis.

The Brazilian Society of Cannabis Studies, SBEC, is another very important scientific association for Brazilian activism. Formed by professionals and academics from different areas, it aims to promote, consolidate and expand scientific research and the training of professionals in Brazil.

Acuca, Associação Cultural Cannábica, is another association with a great impact on activism. With the objective of articulating several areas and knowledge related to the different uses of the plant, Acuca defends the legalization as the best political strategy for the users, and mainly for the society. Acting in the organization of debates and various activities to integrate the cannabis community, the objective is to influence public policies and represent the anti-prohibitionist struggle.

Researchers, mothers and growers who fight for a fairer drug policy or who plant in their homes are also activists and are fighting as hard as they can. Any civil disobedience practice is also part of this anti-prohibitionist struggle. Each fight within their own reality – what moves is the love for the cause and the will to do social justice.

Activism in times of coronavirus

Being an advocate for a cause starts at home, with friends and family. Informing yourself, sharing information, as well as civil disobedience, are ways to join the cause. But now, more than ever, the anti-prohibitionist struggle must prioritize those in vulnerable situations.

Users’ freedom and rights are very important, but in times of coronavirus, the biggest problem is overcrowded prisons, where 20% of the imprisoned are for drug-related crimes. It is worth saying that the Drug Law in Brazil does not mention an amount that differentiates user trafficking, leaving racist and socioeconomic criteria as determinants.

The situation of prisons in Brazil, the country with the third largest prison population in the world, is unfortunate. These prisoners today are fighting for life and the right to be able to receive adequate treatment in the midst of a pandemic.

What is your way of fighting for this cause? We hope that, with this post, we can inspire you to start – even if it is gradually, taking the information into your own home and expanding it for the world!!! Often, the most important activism starts within our own circle, with small actions. If we can change opinions and fight prejudice, one at a time, we can change the world, and we can also transform our spaces into fairer places.

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