New Wave of Far-Right Attacks on Cannabis in Brazil Threaten Medical Use
The fight for fair use of medical cannabis in Brazil continues, online and off, with considerable efforts by government officials to silence activists and educators.
In July, the headquarters of a cannabis association in Rio de Janeiro, ABRACannabis, was raided by the police without a warrant after a denouncement made by a far-right supporter of Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro.
The denouncement came from state representative Rodrigo Amorim, who received the most votes in the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro in 2018, and who became nationally famous for breaking a plaque honouring fellow state representative Marielle Franco, who was assassinated by armed militiamen on March 14, 2018.
In addition to the raid, several Instagram pages of cannabis institutions and activists have been taken down since the year began, including that of Gravital Clinic, a reference for cannabis users in Brazil, as well as the page of one of the biggest news portals dedicated to cannabis, Cannabis & Saúdde, in what seems to be a coordinated attack by members of the far-right.
Police Conduct Raid of Medical Cannabis Association Without Warrant
Pedro Zarur, director of ABRACannabis, an association that promotes the use and applications of medical marijuana, said to the press that “the association’s headquarters are in my house and I have a habeas corpus to grow marijuana, since I am a medical patient. Even so, my house was the target of a police operation, without a warrant, without information about the procedure.”
The raid caused outrage among medical cannabis activists. Marcus Bruno, communications director for Santa Cannabis (Brazilian Medicinal Cannabis Association), explained that the police officers came for Zarur’s house with rifles, preventing the doorman from warning that they were entering. For Bruno, this is clearly a “use of the police as a political instrument of a pro-Bolsonaro congressman.”
Santa Cannabis’ Instagram page was also taken down. Bruno believes that pro-Bolsonaro profiles and bots are behind the mass denunciations and the exclusion of cannabis-related accounts, which happens not only in Brazil but around the world. The page was taken offline the first time after denouncing the invasion of Zarur’s residence, and another time after participating in an event attended by leftist parties.
Taking down pages linked to cannabis associations is not exactly new, but in Brazil, it is surprising how coordinated and far-reaching it seems to be.
Cannabis Activists, Educators In Brazil Weigh In
Leandro Stelitano is the founder and president of CANNAB (Association for Research and Development of Medicinal Cannabis in Brazil), and says the shutting down of pages is a result of “the industry of therapeutic communities installed in the drug policy of the current government.”
“In relation to the profiles taken down by Instagram, I think that due to the country not having a regulation related to the topic, they restrict this activism,” he says.
His opinion is shared by Gustavo Maia, the editor of Cannabis Monitor, another relevant news portal dedicated to cannabis in Brazil. He notes that “there is indeed more pressure” against cannabis activists “since the president’s anti-marijuana position is a central part of his ideological political project, which is not interested in debating the issue or thinking about drug policy solutions that overcome the failed and perverse prohibitionist model.”
The Role of Bolsonaro’s ‘Hate Cabinet’
For Maia, Bolsonaro uses the anti-cannabis agenda as a political tool to position himself “contrary, in any circumstance, to the agendas aligned with progressive ideals” as a way to “seek to gain the support and sympathy of the large conservative portion of the Brazilian population, which is very poorly informed about the issue.”
Bolsonaro, along with his supporters, also spreads disinformation and so-called fake news on this and other topics, even hosting a “hate cabinet” inside the presidential palace run by one of his sons, believed to specialize in creating and spreading false information. This parallel cabinet is currently being investigated by the Supreme Court.
Another page with thousands of followers that was taken down was Girls in Green.
Psychologist Alice Reis, one of the page’s administrators, explains that Girls in Green “is a cannabis platform made by women with a focus on harm reduction and drug policy information,” with a focus on education.
She says that she had her page taken down even before Bolsonaro was elected, however in 2021, “our profile disappeared for two days this year, and right after a post about Bolsonaro… We were deleted the first time with the page being heavily reported, and the second time we were taken down was for a post that said ‘Fora Bolsonaro’ [Bolsonaro Out].”
“I tend to believe that [the attacks against pages and the invasion of the ABRACannabis headquarters] are the characterization of the setbacks that Bolsonaro brought,” explains Renato Filev, who is a researcher at the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) in the program of guidance and care for addicts.
He says that there is a “political persecution of activists who fight for changes to the drug law; not only the demand for regulation of cannabis for therapeutic purposes but a total regulation as they have done in Canada, in 18 states in the United States, in Uruguay, that is being discussed in Mexico and other countries around the world. And that has been a systematic way of intimidation of social movements and criminalization not only in the field of drugs, but any kind of social movement that involves human rights or a progressive agenda.”
“There is a clash of interests within the federal government. Because of this current policy, they are able to use the public machine in an ostensible way, and the intelligence of the police to persecute people who are contrary to their conservative policies,” says Filey.
Bill Approved After Six Years Presents Opportunities and Challenges
But it’s not all setbacks. Filev celebrates the approval in a special committee of the House of Representatives, of the Bill 399/2015, “to enable the commercialization of medicines containing extracts, substrates or parts of the cannabis sativa plant in its formulation,” after six years of waiting.
“What has been said is that there was a lobby of large companies in Canada, such as Canopy Growth, established via the former president of the house of representatives, Rodrigo Maia, and this lobby made him form this special commission,” explains Filey.
Marcos Bruno is confident that the bill will pass in a vote in the House of Representatives and even more easily in the Senate, as he notes that both left and right-wing parties are in favour of the bill—except for those parties that are closer to the president.
However, he points out that only Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela have not legalized some form of cannabis planting. Bill 399 itself is very conservative and somewhat behind the times, as there are already more than 300 authorizations for cannabis cultivation in Brazil related to planting for personal use and self-cultivation. “This bill does not contemplate self-cultivation in other forms of administration, such as vaporized use for example, nor is the sale of flower is being contemplated,” says Bruno.
Gustavo Maia agrees, noting that “institutionally, things are slower and the current conjuncture doesn’t favour a fast and comprehensive advance of the cannabis agenda. However, the theme is on the agenda of the congress, the Supreme Court, Anvisa [the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency], and the health councils and unions.”
He also adds that despite the institutional setbacks and slowness, there are clear advances within civil society.
“More and more is being said about cannabis, more is being debated, more is being published on the subject. There are countless initiatives of activism, associations and entrepreneurship related to the sector, not only in the medicinal field, but also in the area of research, education about the plant and its uses, and informative content,” says Maia.
“The use of cannabis for medicinal purposes is already a reality in Brazil, but unfortunately for a few. We need to expand access and, above all, stop the failed war that only produces injustice in the name of a false combat against the production, trade, and consumption of marijuana.”
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