Brazil’s push to regulate medical marijuana industry

. Jun 28, 2019
Brazil authorities are moving towards regulating cannabis marijuana for medicinal purposes, but the proposal on the table has angered both sides of the debate

In relation to the global trend toward decriminalizing or legalizing cannabis, Brazil is lagging way behind. With Canada, Portugal, Uruguay, and much of the U.S. leading the movement towards permitting broad recreational use of cannabis, the drug remains strictly forbidden in Brazil, even for medicinal and research purposes.

This could be about to change, however. The country’s sanitary surveillance agency Anvisa has launched a proposal to regulate the growing of cannabis for medicinal and research purposes and will put its suggestions to public consultation. It hopes to establish a new rule on the matter by the end of the year.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The issue of marijuana legislation in Brazil is confusing. While the medicinal and research use of the cannabis plant is legal in much of Europe and even large parts of South America, it has yet to progress in Brazil. However, a 2006 law exists which allows the government to authorize the cultivation of cannabis strictly for medical and research purposes. Thirteen years later, Anvisa is now pushing to regulate that law.</span></p> <h2>Criticism on both sides</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The sanitary agency&#8217;s proposal has upset groups on both sides of the argument, however. The plan is to permit the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal and research purposes under very strict conditions. Plants must be grown indoors, in rooms with sealed windows, double doors, biometric entrance controls, and 24-hour surveillance.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;It&#8217;s essentially a bunker,&#8221; says Dr. Fabrício Pamplona, a pharmacologist specializing in cannabinoids, to </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b><span style="font-weight: 400;">. &#8220;Plants would need to be stocked in fortified and refrigerated safes which are equivalent to those used in banks. It&#8217;s insurmountable.&#8221;   </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In practice, this demand for high-cost infrastructure will muscle out smaller companies and startups looking to get into the market of cultivating cannabis for medical use. Some patients associations have even complained that Anvisa&#8217;s proposal could lead to an oligopoly in the industry, claiming that planting indoors would cost roughly 20 times more than outdoors or in greenhouses.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Despite being critical of the excessive security requirements put in place, Dr. Pamplona is not opposed to indoor cultivation. &#8220;Most growing is done indoors at the moment. With the right personnel, some reckon that indoor [cultivation] is more efficient and productive than outdoor, despite the higher initial investment.&#8221; </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The government is also against the Anvisa proposal, but for different reasons. There is a broad concern among the conservative administration that any permissions related to cannabis could lead to an <a href="">increase in recreational use</a>. The government is in favor of cannabis-based drugs being licensed in the country, but firmly believe the raw materials should be imported from abroad.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">On social media, Citizenship Minister Osmar Terra claimed Anvisa was being &#8220;irresponsible&#8221; in regulating this topic, &#8220;going against the law, scientific evidence, Congress, and the government.&#8221;</span></p> <p><script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Surprisingly, the Federal Board of Medicine (CFM) has sided with the government, saying Anvisa&#8217;s proposal causes risks to public health and claiming there is no consistent evidence to prove the efficacy and safety of the medical use of cannabinoids.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;I don&#8217;t understand how professionals of this level can insist on such a backwards stance,&#8221; says Dr. Pamplona. He explains that several countries which are more developed than Brazil have recognized the validity of using cannabis for medicine. &#8220;My only guess is that it&#8217;s an ideological [stance].&#8221; </span></p> <h2>Cannabis-based medicine in Brazil</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The push towards regulation makes sense, as there are already examples of cannabis-based medicines which are permitted in Brazil. Three such drugs are licensed for production and sale in Brazil, as is the case of Sativex, a mouth spray to alleviate symptoms of multiple sclerosis. As things stand, however, these products are prohibitively expensive, with each pack of Sativex sold for around BRL 2,600.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Furthermore, patients have successfully petitioned the Brazilian public health service (SUS) for the right to import other cannabis-based medicines, with the high costs often borne by the government. Current data indicates that over 6,000 Brazilians have the court-given right to import these drugs.</span></p> <h2>Legalization</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Throughout the process, Anvisa has been explicit in stating that the regulation has nothing to do with loosening rules on the recreational use of cannabis, not least because the agency has no jurisdiction to decide on such issues. However, while Dr. Pamplona believes that Brazil has a very long way to go to legalizing or decriminalizing the drug, this initiative could be an important first step.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;Right now, what we need is a positive experience with highly controlled medicinal use of cannabis,&#8221; he says. &#8220;That way, lawmakers may realize that legalizing or decriminalizing cannabis for broader use is reasonable.&#8221;

Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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