Here is one truism about the cannabis revolution. It has tended (so far) to be virulently opposed by the extreme right wing—and in every country. No matter what one thinks of John Boehner’s record on the drug war, not to mention his current position on the board of Acreage, the company slated to merge with Canopy Growth when federal reform of cannabis happens in the U.S.), he is a pragmatist, with a long history of taking cash from the pharma lobby in the U.S.
Bill 399/15, legalizing the cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes, and now in front of the Brazilian House, is about to change all of that. It will be voted on in late November and is expected to pass, going on to the Senate, where it is also expected to do so.
The issue has been simmering at a federal level since this summer, with all kinds of politicking between proponents and those who oppose cannabis reform. It is especially politically delicate given the extreme anti-cannabis predilections of the current President Jair Bolsonaro. Indeed, as a way of placating naysayers, the idea is to also pass another law to regulate home education (a major political plank of the sitting president).
Here is how to understand how delicate all of this is politically. Earlier this year, Bolsonaro used a national security law dating from the period when the country was governed under military rule to detain and or investigate critics of his poor handling of the country’s COVID pandemic. In March, he detained people who called him “genocidal” and displaying a cartoon depicting him as a Nazi.
Common Sense (and the Agricultural Lobby) are Making a Difference
Here is the first compelling reason why sitting politicians in both houses are willing to defy the president, no matter how much Bolsonaro has made derogatory public statements including calling the bill “crap” and threatening to veto the same (which could in turn be overturned by Congress). Those who would be otherwise persuaded to continue with the status quo are being rather rapidly convinced that cannabis is powerful medicine.
Beyond this, the more compelling interest here is the agricultural lobby of the country, which of course is looking at business development projects not only in Latin America at this point (see Mexico if not Columbia) and moving with the global tide.
That said, cannabis with a THC content that divides it from hemp will have to be grown in strictly controlled conditions (such as a two-meter fence and biometric identification).
Sustainable Cannabis and Biodiversity in Brazil?
Given the conditions being laid down, there are two ways the industry could develop here. It could be just the thing this country, home to endangered rainforests and alarmingly decreasing biodiversity, needs. Best practices of cannabis cultivation is already a topic of interest in places like South Africa, where gold mining has created, literally, toxic land full of heavy metals and other runoff from poorly managed operations.
However, cannabis monoculture is a threat here. The capital for operations that meet both impending regulations and can be exported, will be inextricably tied to foreign corporations who will demand the same. EU-GMP cannabis, for example, must be grown inside man-made greenhouses. That does not spell good news for an already beleaguered country—at least from the ecology perspective. So far, tragically, the industry has tended to adopt the cheapest practices, rather than the most sustainable. See the history, so far at least, of the larger public Canadian firms (who are of course also circling).
That said, issues of a warming and increasingly less biologically diverse planet cannot be entirely ignored, even in this industry. If landrace cannabis is given priority here, perhaps a call for preserving the rapidly shrinking rainforests and the country’s biodiversity might take hold. There have been several attempts, in fact, to create cannabis cultivations that preserve the existing biodiversity of their immediate environs and even attach carbon credits to the same. So far, the market has not broadly responded, but this too may change.
Ethically aware and sensitive cannabis is already a trend in countries in Africa. There is no reason that this might not also happen in Brazil.
However, given Bolsonaro’s current predilections, if not immediate past history on such issues, including seizing land from native tribes two years ago, the immediate future, at least, is not bright.
Beyond biodiversity, however, perhaps it is a small comfort to those whose sole interest is cannabis reform to understand that the right wing can, in highly limited circumstances, be forced to accept reform.
The question will be in Brazil, at least, will it be worth it?