Today we are going to talk a little bit about the political situation of cannabis in Brazil today, what are the current laws and how to have access to medical cannabis
To talk about politics, we first need to go back and understand a little bit about history. The history of cannabis is quite extensive. The use of cannabis and hemp derivatives has been around since the dawn of mankind. Hemp was the raw material for so many things before prohibition! Fabric, fuel and even the sails of the first vessels that arrived in Brazil had hemp in their composition.
The history of cannabis
The entire Muslim-influenced region knew this special plant, as did Central Asia and India. There are records of religious use in some countries like India. There is no reference to cannabis in the Koran or Suna, but the Arab pharmacopeia advises its use for several purposes. Even in typical Moroccan pharmacies, you can still find arnica with handmade cannabis, it’s great for pain! In the literature we also have some examples of characters who used the substance, such as the lady of a thousand and one nights.
The first time that the Brazilian constitution prohibited a psychoactive substance was in 1830, with the prohibition of cannabis. What calls our attention is that cannabis was not a public health issue in Brazil, it was far from being a popular substance in the country, but the historical context shows us a possibility for cannabis to have been banned on that date.
In 1849, Rio de Janeiro had the largest black slave population in the Americas and with the abolition of slavery, the black community began to form contingents. Although slavery was banned, ex-slaves did not have access to the same rights and opportunities as white emigrants and elites. The challenge of finding paid work was a challenge, but not the only one. The aristocracy wished to abolish all forms of Afro-descendent cultural expression.
In the same census in which cannabis was banned, candomblé, capoeira and being on the street playing samba were considered crimes. The use of cannabis was associated with a culture, with specific habits, they were the things that “black people did”, it was a ban with a political and racial nature, with the objective of maintaining control over a population. It was not a public health issue.
Opium and cocaine were drugs used by the elite, which is why they only became a concern in Brazil after the International Opium Convention, in 1912. From that moment on, Brazilian drug policy began to see the user as a patient and used hygienist practices to combat drug use. That’s when the cannabis ban becomes an international discussion. In the United States, a pioneer country with prohibitionist ideas, cannabis only became banned in 1937, when President Franklin Roosevelt created the Marijuana Tax Act, a law that prohibited the cultivation and commercialization of cannabis derivatives on American soil.
After all, is cannabis decriminalized in Brazil?
Law No. 11,343, of August 23, 2006, is currently in force in Brazil. This law establishes the National System of Public Policies on Drugs (Sisnad) and determines measures to prevent the misuse of drugs, as well as rules for repression, unauthorized production and illicit drug trafficking. Art. 33. prohibits Importing, exporting, shipping, preparing, producing, manufacturing, purchasing, selling, exhibiting for sale, offering, keeping in deposit, transporting, bringing with you, saving, prescribing, administering, delivering for consumption or supplying drugs, even if free of charge, without authorization or in disagreement with legal or regulatory determination.
This opens the door for interpretations by the judiciary, which takes into account socioeconomic and also racial arguments to decide whether that person would be a user or a drug dealer. According to data from the Ministry of Justice and Public Security provided by the statistical information system of the Brazilian penitentiary system, prisoners for drug-related crimes correspond to 20% of the total prisoners in Brazil. Browns represent 50% of prisoners and blacks, 16%. Such data shows us that mass incarceration is closely related to the drug law, and in general, it is a mass incarceration of the black and brown population.
In addition to law No. 11,343, another drug that directly affects users of cannabis and other illicit drugs, is the law on admission to psychiatric clinics No. 10,216 / 2001, which provides for three types of hospitalization (Art. 6): the voluntary hospitalization law , which takes place with the user’s consent and two types of involuntary institutionalization – anti asylum.
Involuntary institutionalization , which takes place with the user’s consent and at the request of a third party; and
Compulsory institutionalization, that determined by Justice
Involuntary institutionalization can be requested by any relative or spouse. The family request does not need judicial authorization, there is only the need for analysis by the doctor of the private clinic or the Unified Health System (SUS) and it is up to the hospital unit to inform the Public Ministry. Compulsory internment occurs when the State considers internment necessary, but there is no family request. This type of involuntary stitutionalization has occurred since 1934 and shows us how Brazilian laws are behind schedule.
Among psychiatric clinics are rehabilitation clinics and they currently operate like the old asylums, where drug users are treated with the same brutality as people hospitalized for mental disorders in the last century. Many clinics are religious and use conversion as a “healing” practice. Penalties are applied to users who refuse to convert. A problem with hospitalization and the logic of the clinics is that the user is removed from his environment and is forced to stop using the drugs, but when he returns to the same context, the use is usually recurrent.
However, compulsory hospitalization does not only affect users in extreme situations of vulnerability or who do multiple drugs. Some more conservative and / or religious families consider the use of cannabis so problematic as to justify the admission of a loved one to a clinic, and by law, the user has no choice of decision. Among the pillars of Harm Reduction is autonomy Therefore, the fight for a fairer drug law and that based on the Harm Reduction policy is very much associated with anti-asylum and other ways of dealing with drug abuse.
Current political movements
Repression still exists in Brazil, but the political movement and the fight for a fairer drug policy, as well as greater access to information, and especially medical cannabis for all, exist and are growing stronger.
We have, for example, the Marcha da Maconha, which is a democratic movement, without hierarchical leadership, formed by several different collectives. The March is a space to debate and learn about marijuana won through a lot of struggle. In 2011, justice again prohibits the March in these cities, until on June 15, 2011, the Federal Supreme Court unanimously decided the legitimacy of the demonstration by means of a non-compliance with fundamental precepts, understanding that the March does not condone crime and that its prohibition is a threat to freedom of expression, guaranteed by the constitution.
And the fight didn’t stop in 2011, on the contrary! Political movements gained a voice and the discussion for a reformulation of public drug policies in Brazil became a federal reality. Since 2011, the Federal Senate and the Chamber of Deputies have totaled 21 proposals on the topic. In 2014, Anvisa authorized the import of cannabis-based drugs and brought up the discussion around medical cannabis.
We are awaiting the Senate decision on the bill, which aims to regulate medical marijuana and industrial hemp in Brazil. The Brazilian Network for Harm Reduction and Human Rights (Reduc) created the suggestion (SUG 6/2016), approved by the Human Rights Commission in September 2019.
The PL has six articles and decriminalizes the sowing, cultivation and harvest of cannabis sativa for personal therapeutic use. The “regulatory framework”, as the bill is known, provides that all regulation of legalization is the responsibility of a state agricultural authority.
In the Chamber, there is a project by deputy Fábio Mitidieri (PSD-SE), to regulate the trade of drugs containing extracts, substrates or parts of Cannabis plants.
A legalization of drugs to reform structures
As we have seen, drug prohibition mainly affects the black and poorest population in Brazil. That is why we want to think about a legalization that reformulates this public policy structure. We expect the legalization of therapeutic / medical marijuana, as well as the trade in cannabis-based drugs, but we also expect inclusive public policies and social reparations to mitigate the damage from the drug war.
From an inclusive perspective, access to medicines by the Unified Health System (SUS) would be an important public policy. Thinking from a perspective of social and historical reparation, it is necessary to reevaluate the arrest of individuals for using or carrying marijuana. Associations can also be a great alternative considering users’ autonomy to access cannabis, as well as home growing.