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Building A Parliamentary Front For Cannabis In Brazil

Efforts to legalise medical and industrial cannabis have encountered strong reactionary opposition in Brazil, with past attempts to regulate medicinal cannabis in mid-2021 succeeding in the face of strong political opposition. However, more than sixteen months have passed since a special commission of the Brazilian Congress voted favourably for the legalisation of medicinal and industrial cannabis (hemp), but the approved bill is still stuck in Congress without any efforts to move the bill along to the Senate for final approval.

This deliberate delay in the progress of cannabis legislation, along with the strong momentum and widespread demand for drug policy reform, provide the context in which the Parliamentary Front for Cannabis (Bancada da Cannabis, in Portuguese) was established. This Front lists electoral candidates for the National Congress who have integrated cannabis regulation and social justice as primary issues on their agenda. The Front brings together left-wing, centrist, and moderate candidates, creating a space for much-needed dialogue across the political spectrum. The National Congress elections will be occurring simultaneously with the Brazilian presidential elections at the start of October.

In a bold call for action, the cannabis Front’s agenda asserts that legalisation and regulation must not be restricted to medicinal use, as the enforcement of prohibition is responsible for the incarceration of many, but particularly young Black people. But the agenda is not restricted to the public security aspect of prohibition and the harms it causes. Another important aspect of the manifesto is the call to look beyond the traditionally right-wing favoured paradigm of cannabis (or any illegal drug) and its tensions with public security, which favour a criminal justice approach to drug control. The members of the cannabis Front urge constituents to think about the economic and social relief that can be achieved through the plant’s regulation with the generation of jobs and income.

Paulo Teixeira (from the Workers Party), who chaired the special commission that voted and approved the cannabis bill in June 2021, is one of the candidates on the cannabis Front. His presence is both encouraging and welcome, especially at a moment when politicians who historically supported legalisation are increasingly growing quiet, giving in to conservative pressure and publicly changing their stances on this issue.

With Bolsonaro and his allies heavily investing in moral panic and fearmongering as tools to frame left-wing politicians and candidates with a supposed “unruly” liberalisation of drugs and release of prisoners, some leftists lack the courage to engage more deeply with this urgent debate in order to cater to conservative constituents.

Dario Almeida (Socialism and Freedom Party/PSOL in the Portuguese acronym), a candidate for Minas Gerais, went viral with his Brazilian Funk-styled jingle that promotes the regulation of cannabis. He is one of the members of the Parliamentary Front for Cannabis.

The establishment of the cannabis Front is further evidence of the appetite for drug policy reform in Brazil, and how it is strongly supported by lawmakers and civil society. Maisa Diniz (from the centrist party Rede), a candidate for São Paulo who leads the cannabis Front, has recently given an interview in which she talks about the need to discuss the regulations of other substances beyond cannabis. Watching a young female candidate talking about the need to tackle social issues that might lead to problematic relationships with drugs, as well as promote harm reduction as the main axis of her campaign has been refreshing. Her campaign caters not only to the left-wing, abolitionist constituents concerned with social justice; it also strives to create information about the economic benefits of current and future cannabis markets, cleverly framing cannabis regulation as a financial and research opportunity to help establish a dialogue with more liberal and market-oriented voters. Diniz’s arguments demonstrate the importance of  investing in dialogue across the political spectrum, which, alongside the cannabis Front’s campaign, can push the national Brazilian debate towards considering implementation.

We have had our almost lethal doses of misinformation, fearmongering, and censorship. Enough with captains, generals, technocrats, and their thirst for whichever kind of war they can wage for personal profit. “The times they are a-changing” as the song goes, and Brazilian citizens are also demanding changes in drug policy.

Once again, I am inviting my fellow citizens to use their political capital and rights wisely, and my international peers to keep a close eye on the current Brazilian scenario so that we make the most out of the momentum we have created to transform our society.

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