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A Political Glance at the Cannabis Movement in Brazil


Brazil, the third largest country of the continent, the largest country in South America and the fifth biggest in the world, once was a Republic Government where the army exercised power, now constituted in a Federative republic where Rio de Janeiro was the capital, now Brasilia is the federal capital. Brazil, one of the most beautiful places in the Western hemisphere known for its white sand beaches, tropical islands, good food, amazing music filled metropolises, “mother city” charming colonial towns along the 7,500 km (4,600 mi) long coastline. Brazil’s inland consists of the most beautiful waterfalls and wetlands filled with wild life and the untouched wilderness of the Amazon rainforests where several isolated tribes still live without any contact with the rest of the world. The people are Indigenous and their official speaking language is Portuguese, is significant economically, politically and culturally, under military rule and known for much political instability, let it be known whereas the 20th century is certainly Brazil’s historical era.


The movement to legalize marijuana just started to gain power in recent years.

Rio De Janeiro was the first place in Brazil to hold its first march approximately ten years ago.


Due to much struggle, diversification of activism, & repression for many years, the marijuana legalization movement in Brazil has grown enormously since its first protest. Just last year, 2012, Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF) dismissed an action in respect of Marijuana Marches. At this time, the judges of the Supreme Court unanimously decided that marches and other demonstrations for change in laws and policies on drugs were absolutely legitimate and constitutional. Brazil will always have a past filled of memories that many could never forget nor regret. Some countries never see justification until it is too late. If you take a moment to go back in time, you will see the true strength that this country mirrors, you will also understand why the Brazilian culture will never be the same as it was a decade ago.


Freedom never came easily for Brazil. Looking back on June 15, 2011 news hit fast, that the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled that such demonstrations are an exercise of free expression and do not encourage people when the green door had finally opened for Brazilians! A pro-legislation of marijuana rally in Rio de Janeiro, created much support from organizations pulling together protesting for the right to free speech, freedom of choice and, some, for the legislation of marijuana. This day was certainly a turning point for activist in Brazil. The “March for Freedom” (Marcha da Liberdade) will forever be their pivotal moment in the struggle for liberal values in Brazil that also represented a new social movement. Today, Brazil has much to be thankful for with a collage of historical moments to give good reason to celebrate, it just wasn’t that


Over the years, violence in Brazil had increased due to violent repression of protesters by state military police. It is known that police violence today is still a harsh reality that many face in Brazil, especially in areas where crime and poverty are high. Reflecting back during the historical “March For Freedom”, many Brazilians were appalled at the level of excessive force used just to suppress peaceful protestors. It was on May 21, 2011 at Sao Paulo’s ”Marijuana March” the unforgettable catalytic event came with much unnecessary violence. The people of Brazil were prohibited from holding a “March for Marijuana,” records show, a crowd of little over 1,000, cannabis advocates in Brazil’s largest city had agreed with police to protest instead in defense of freedom of expression. But minutes after allowing the march, the Military Police brutally attacked the unarmed demonstrators with stun bombs, tear gas and rubber bullets. Four of the protesters were arrested. Students Lucas Gordon and Julio Delmanto, both members of the group ‘Desentorpecendo a Razão’ (Stretching Reason), which organized the march, were arrested and taken to the 78th Police Precinct with allegations of “disobedience.” The original aim of the organizers was to hold a march for the legalization of marijuana, the “Marcha da Maconha.” However, Judge Teodomiro Mendes, of the Court of Justice of São Paulo, on Friday afternoon banned that march. At that point, organizers agreed to instead hold a march in defense of freedom of expression, only to be attacked by the very police who had originally agreed to allow the demonstration.

Loop holes in the marijuana movement exist all across the globe, and even in Brazil it became quite a challenge.  The police were acting under a federal court ruling, which had declared pro-marijuana marches illegal. At least nine other federal courts across the country also issued a ban. The courts claimed that the protests acted to support drugs use, a crime in Brazil known as “apology for drug use”. Not to protesters surprise, the rulings only served to increase support for the marches, with many protesters joining in under the banner of freedom of expression.

Then, in a coup for free speech and liberal values, earlier that week before the march, it was told that Brazil’s supreme court voted unanimously to overturn the rulings and to allow Brazil’s marijuana marches to go ahead. The ruling came just in time for the marches. Despite a heavy police presence, all protests, except one, took place in peace.

Yet, in spite of all the police repression and the educational campaigns directed at them throughout the years, drug usage in Brazil has been growing continually, that has reached an ever younger public, and has come to involve much more dangerous substances such as cocaine, which is used in many ways: snorted, injected or smoked in the form of crack-cocaine. Nevertheless more and more people are becoming more aware that it is a known fact, the drugs that cause by far the most harm are still the legal ones, predominantly used by adults, alcohol and tobacco.

Tobacco use is a much more dangerous health risk than cannabis ever could be.  Cannabis has many medical benefits especially when medical knowledge is used and applied properly, comparison to tobacco that will cause non-communicable and communicable diseases.

In many cultures, cannabis has certainly had an ancient past and has a blend all to its own of dissent mystique and modernity. In spite of the official censorship applied to the press and the arts, Brazil’s recent history is considered to have been a very creative period which has laid the basis for the present Brazilian culture, especially with regard to the life styles of the young, and the use of drugs (mainly cannabis) has become a lasting part of youth culture.



Cannabis History In Brazil

The smoking of Cannabis is believed to have been introduced into Colonial Brazil by African slaves. This practice became especially widespread in the North and Northeast where it was common among the poor Black population, both urban and rural, and some Indian groups known as,(Doria, Iglésias, Moreno, Mott, Henman). During this time, the Black population, and the Indians with whom they were in contact, used Cannabis for multiple purposes as similar to modern times. It is said that cannabis was used as a medicinal herb, as a stimulant for physical labor, as a pastime for fishermen out at sea, and as a promoter of socialization in semi-ritualized smoking circles that gathered men at the end of a long day. Cannabis in Afro-Brazilian religious rituals can be found in some references to: Anthropologist Gilberto Freyre who considered the smoking of this plant as a form of African cultural resistance in this region. In the early 19th century, there were some local ordinances against the sale or use of Cannabis but not much seriousness arouse.  It only became a serious police and public health concern in relatively recent times. The first republican Brazilian penal code, was issued in 1890, and although it banned “poisonous substances”, made no mention of Cannabis.

As Brazilian people entered the 20th century, Cannabis use by the urban poor began to be only seen as a threat. The first decades of this period brought claims of big concerns from an important group of doctors who supposedly were being protective of the wellbeing of the “Brazilian race” The doctors considered cannabis to cause serious harm both to the physical and to the mental health of smokers and blamed it for multiple problems such as: idiocy, violence, unbridled sensuality, madness and racial degeneration. The doctors began to be very opinionated as to how this could happen, they also made it seem it may have been introduced by the Blacks, a kind of “revenge of the defeated”. Later, even though the doctors seemed to have little knowledge of cannabis, they classified cannabis as highly addictive and compared marijuana as similar to the drug, opium and referred cannabis as the “poor man’s opium”. Increasing medical manipulative tactics by the doctors created a false stigma about cannabis giving the impression that it would cause deviance and sickness.  Cannabis effects was described to be out of the normal sociology context of behavioral patterns and it became a theory for social control which was to  convince the people of Brazil Cannabis was considered to be highly addictive. This created a very negative lasting impression on Cannabis that changed the minds of the Brazilian people. It was in 1936, when the cannabis plant was officially classified as a narcotic whose sale and use ought to be banned altogether.

During the Second World War, between the spats of nationalism and the white elite formatting a nation-wide crusade with strong racist slant for the campaign against cannabis, excuses to cause repression for the Blacks who were considered to be a “dangerous population” deeply affected Brazil.

The population at large in Brazil had now been manipulated by the doctors who portrayed and convinced Brazilian press that all cannabis smokers were a social parasite, a troublemaker and a victim of mental disease.  The 1950’s was a time when Brazil was coming into its second Republic and three parties dominated national politics.  Two of them were pro-Vargas- the Brazilian Labour Party ( partido Trabalhista Brasileiro, PTB to the left and the Social democratic Party (Partido social Democratico, PSD) in the center- and another anti-Vargas, the rightist National Democratic Union (Uniao Democratica Nacional, UDN). It was a time when Brazil was also having an economic crisis and wanted to reduce foreign dependency.  Brazil had faced much opposition and conflict in the 50’s. Still the highly sensitive topic of cannabis would continue to easily influence the general public by the many past references. The once organic “miracle plant” of mother- nature would be associated to highly dangerous criminals, hopelessly addicted youths or neurotic, decadent celebrities.

In the 70’s after Brazil endured police brutality dictatorship, young, middle class members engaged in what became known as “cultural dissent”. This strong individualistic movement was mainly influenced by the American and European “underground” of the late 60’s which ultimate goals were to aim to undermine the bourgeois values that sustained the regime. The new generation of the peace and love movement was known for individuals having their long hair, free sex stylistic views, music and mysticism minded individuals who used soft drugs and hallucinogens, (at this time cocaine was still rare) just were not taken seriously by the Brazilian Military who was mainly enthralled with the war against left wing guerrillas. It was obvious that Brazil’s social climate had become uncomfortably heated. Brazil became highly repressive due to a lack of public debate on important social issues which then only resulted in creating this idealistic battlefield for waves of fear & a climb for moral panic which led to anticommunist hysteria. In the education system, those who were more fortunate in better educated sectors and students of the youth society had now been easily perceived as the new “dangerous classes”.  Of course the youth stood out and was always the first to raise questions over matters pertaining to politics, education, employment and sexual morals. The Brazilian youth is the center of social and cultural changes in their country which is why they were targeted as the most readily perceptible.


In 1976, the drug legislation was passed. These laws, which punished both the sale and the possession for individual use of a large list of substances, including Cannabis, have been criticized on many accounts, such as their difficulty in making a realistic distinction between users and dealers. More legal issues stemmed predominantly from their undemocratic nature, inherited from the National Security Legislation which was at the basis of the dictatorial regime and on which they were modeled. Although a new democratic constitution was drawn up after the military were ousted, these laws went untouched and since then matters have become even tougher once drug trafficking has now been placed in a new category of, so called, “hideous crimes” subject to extraordinary repressive treatment, even stricter than those applying to homicide. Presently in Brazil, those who are still unconvicted but awaiting judgement on dealing charges are not eligible for bail or for a series of other rights normally available to defendants.

The growth in the demand for these substances and the lack of effective control over many of the military and police groups concerned with political repression favored corruption and it became quite common for members of these official bodies to come to accept bribes from large and small scale drug dealers and users.

It is said that, drug use has since lost the political meaning the cultural dissenters attributed to it in the 70´s, it has continued to be seen as a hallmark of youthful rebellion, and a source of endless worry for concerned parental figures and educators. But, until recently, anti-drug campaigns continued to adopt a narrow approach, only focusing on the problems caused by the outlawed substances, seldom making any clear distinction among them and never discussing the relative harm of their different manners of usage. People have taken notice of alcoholic drinks and cigarettes being easily available to the public of all ages, at a relatively low cost. These types of productions generally received much official support because they are considered an important source of jobs and revenue. In 1917 the Brazilian Tobacco Corporation was set up in Santa Cruz do Sul (RS). The company was established by the British company, British American Tobacco, and was the first step in the transformation of the city into a national center for the tobacco industry. In 1920 the company changed its name to “Companhia Brasileira de Fumo em Folha” (Brazilian Tobacco Leaf Company) and in 1955 it was acquired by Souza Cruz.  Massive advertising campaigns and massive revenue is brought in from the Tobacco and alcohol industries..


During the 80´s the recreational use of cannabis in private became more accepted among large sectors of the middle class. The academic environmental setting was no exception and, today, a sizable minority of Brazilian University lecturers, students and researchers smoke marihuana. Yet, most research and official discussion on the subject continues to be centered on “problem users” or adolescents, invariably adopting either a medical or a penal approach.

Drugs could relatively be viewed as harmless in themselves of course depending on usage and quantity. One step further, realizing that a war on drugs is really fought against people involved with their production, distribution and use, it seems more sensible to realize there really is a bigger picture to the problem than there is to the solution.


Much Change has been apparent in Brazil. On March 2012, Sao Paulo “Marijuana March” 2012 kicked off at 4:20 Pm and is remembered to be the most peaceful unlike in earlier years, where protestors and police clashed. Last year’s event in Brazil had no violence. Police estimated the crowd was about two thousand attendees. Event organizers say at least 10,000 people participated.  In May, the second Marijuana March was also held in Sao Paulo after the Supreme Court ensured the legality of this type of protest, in 2011. Another peaceful mark in history, where approximately 1000 protesters attended and continue to stay true to focusing on decriminalizing marijuana.


Back in 2004, A new law passed when originally It was estimated that among all the prisoners in the country, close to 12.5 percent were arrested with a small quantity of drugs (amounts within the volume of personal use) and were imprisoned by Law # 6368 of 1976 – defining drug trafficking – of Article 12, paragraph 2, section 3, of the criminal code, that treats the use of drugs as equal to trafficking them, with a penalty of three-to-fifteen years. Many victims of the last, ambiguous, law passed made no distinction between the drug dealer and the addict.


The good news with this law change ensured that fewer people would be imprisoned for drug abuse, and a bigger budget for public health programs that would combat violence.

The good news with this law that changed Brazil, stated that someone who was a user would not go to prison for using drugs,  but rather would end up requiring obligatory “drug treatment” for the addict. When he feels it necessary, a judge can suggest treatment that government health services will have to offer for free. The law also increased penalties for drug dealers, with sentences of five to fifteen years in prison, without parole. The judge then has to make decisions of who is a dealer and who is an addict. During the debate over the legislation with law #7,134, Congressman Paulo Pimenta said, “someone who is arrested with five joints of marijuana in front of his house should be treated differently than someone who is found with the same amount inside a school.” New laws made huge changes in drug laws in Brazil. In was made official that in the case of money launderers and financiers of drug trafficking, the new sentence will be from 8 to 20 years in prison.


In Brazil, it appeared there was no doubt changing laws was not easy whatsoever. It seemed to always generate a lot of argument and wrongheaded opinions. The new law is not the ideal solution to drug use. Expressions like “addict,” and “anti-drugs,” and “alternative sentencing,” and “criminal,” apparently still dominate this debate. But to Brazilians, the fact remains, this was the first real step ever made toward decriminalizing the drug user.  In fact even the national Attorney General, Marcio Thomaz Bastos, had good vibes towards the new law changes, and praised the passage of Law #7,134 who the people say have always supported drug decriminalization. The Attorney General is convinced that the bill is “an advance for the effective combat against narco-trafficking and drug use in the country.” He described the new law as wise, saying that the drug user shouldn’t suffer in prison any more.


April 28, 2012 will always be the unforgettable April 28 in cannabis history! Brazil finally held their first official Cannabis Cup Competition! The 1st Copa Canábia Rio 420 (Cannabis Cup Rio 420), was held with 12 marijuana samples — each with eight grams — from different parts of Brazil, and one strain from Argentina. it was the people from different generations of the Brazilian cannabis movement together that made this event a success. From this point, the cannabis community has made great strides in the South American nation of Brazil with moments in history to never be forgotten.  The Brazilians kept true to their beliefs and will be remembered much like a “banner for the freedom of expression”.

By Racquel Knight – Editor of The Art of MaryJane magazine



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