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Brazil Defies Bolsonaro, Makes Medical Marijuana Progress

Despite its right-wing president, Brazil is making progress in making medical Cannabis affordable and available

Eraldo Peres / AP

A special commission of Brazil’s lower house of Congress last month finally passed Bill 399/2015. The bill would permit the cultivation and sale of medical Cannabis by licensed sellers. Lawmakers approved it by a vote of 18 to 17, and it will move to the Senate. Right-wing lawmakers are doing everything they can do stop it. 

The vote represents a massive rebuke of authoritarian President Jair Bolsonaro’s cabinet, reports Filter. Bolsonaro has waged a brutal campaign against cannabis, including even weed for medical use. Ahead of the voting session, Bolsonaro, often called “the Brazilian Trump,” called the measure a “shitty bill”. He falsely conflated the regulation of the plant for medicinal purposes with full adult-use legalization.

That narrative fits the Bolsonaro administration’s lethal prohibitionist agenda. He has promised to veto the bill if the Senate approves it. Chamber of Deputies Member Diego Garcia, of the right-wing Podemos party, has already filed a petition against it signed by 129 lawmakers.

Lowering Prices For Patients

Supporters argue that permitting domestic cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes will lower the cost of pharmaceuticals derived from the plant. Cannabis medicines are hard to access and extremely expensive in Brazil. The National Sanitary Surveillance Agency approved regulations for the rollout of medical Cannabis products in 2019. But such products are costly for consumers because the marijuana itself must be imported.

“Yes, you can buy cannabis oil in pharmacies, but a 200 mg or 30 ml bottle costs around [$500],” “Jay,” an unlicensed São Paulo seller who operates out of his home, told Filter. “Some physicians prescribe three bottles per month … that’s almost the amount of eight minimum wages in our country.”

Jay started selling medical cannabis products more than two years ago. He did so in order to help his best friend’s son access the CBD he needed to manage his epilepsy. Now, he provides fairly priced CBD oil to any Brazilian who has a medical need for it.

He sells 25 ml bottles for the equivalent of $40, plus cost of shipping. In so doing, he helps hundreds of families around the country’s South and Southeast regions who contact him over WhatsApp. As often as possible, he delivers orders by hand in order to spare his clients that added cost.

“It’s activism based on civil disobedience, man,” Jay said. “I don’t have a permit for cultivation or for processing the oil. But the people who buy my oil really need it and don’t have the money to buy it in the pharmacy. They need the oil to go on with their lives.”

Domestic Cultivation Would Be A Game-Changer In Brazil

Domestic cultivation would be a game-changer for medical marijuana patients in Brazil. Bolsonaro’s allies have repeatedly tried to obstruct such legislation.

In the previous Congressional meeting on May 18, Garcia actually punched Special Commission Chairman Paulo Teixeira (of the left-wing Workers Party). Garcia later denied he assaulted Teixeira, who has been a vocal supporter of medical and adult-use Cannabis legalization. 

The false argument that authorizing medical marijuana would result in “dangerous,” “total liberation” of the plant in Brazil. “All those who defend this bill are weed smokers,” said the ignorant Pastor Eurico. Eurico, a member of the Patriota right-wing party, claimed that marijuana “destroys families.”

Sóstenes Cavalcante (DEM, a center-right party) and Eli Borges (Solidariedade, a moderate party) accused the lawmakers backing the bill of using it as a smokescreen. They both claimed, against the facts, that the bill would authorize all manner of unregulated cultivation.

Hysteria and Hyperbole Displace Science

Emotional appeals to “think of the children” are a time-honored part of the hysteria of prohibitionist discourse. Dr. Osmar Terra (MDB, a center-right party), a close Bolsonaro ally, said during the session that he wanted to warn constituents. Terra claimed “what is being voted here today, with the excuse of helping a few sick people, is legalization.”

The doctor did not, of course, mention the thousands of Brazilians, including children, who need affordable medical marijuana to improve their quality of life. 

Terra, a medical doctor who should know way better, claimed without evidence that marijuana causes permanent brain damage. He also baselessly claimed Cannabis oil causes more harm than smoking a joint. Terra called Bill 399/2015 a “monstrosity. He falsely claimed the special commission was “created to legalize drugs.” “It fits his long record of denying medical science to suit his political interests,” Filter notes.

Brazil: Tragic Failure On COVID

Terra, who served as Bolsonaro’s minister of citizenship from January 2019 to February 2020, is directly responsible for the excessive COVID deaths ravaging Brazil. Since the first days of the pandemic, he forcefully opposed lockdowns. Terra denied both the severity of the crisis and the urgent need for vaccination.

“Thousands of patients are dying preventable deaths [from COVID]. This is the result of a government that doesn’t use science as a basis for decision-making,” Dr. Carolina Nocetti, a pioneer of medical marijuana in Brazil, told Filter

She drew parallels between the current administration’s response to COVID and its approach to Cannabis. “As a doctor, I have a professional obligation to bring out the best for my patients. It is an ethical, professional issue to bring relief when there is the possibility to do so.”

During the voting session, Congresswoman Jandira Feghali (Communist Party), a physician and the leader of the minority in the lower house, spoke out. And Feghali called out the Bolsonaro administration’s disregard for scientific evidence and for the suffering of sick and disabled Brazilians.

“It is exactly the cultivation [of cannabis] that makes [medicine] cheaper,” Feghali said. “Voting against this bill means favoring the pharmaceutical industry, it means favoring an expensive medicine. [Terra], who got all puffed up when he talked about science, is the same one who said that the pandemic would end in June last year.”

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