Brazil allows import of THC products —but only cultivation of 'hemp'

Posted on December 6th, 2019 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , , , , .

BrazilBrazil's limited medical marijuana program takes a step forward with new regulations allowing importation of THC products. Cultivation within the country, however, will be confined to "hemp"—that is, CBD-only strains. And even that is proceeding very slowly. The far-right government of Jair Bolsonaro meanwhile continues its hardline policies in the face of fast-escalating narco-violence.

Brazil's medical marijuana program has languished for years, but new regulations and a court decision this week spell significant if still limited progress.

THC products become available —at last
The country's health regulatory agency (formally the National Sanitary Oversight Agency, or ANVISA) on Dec. 3 approved rules allowing the import and sale of medicinal cannabis-based products. But it turned down a proposal to allow domestic medical marijuana cultivation. 

Until now, Brazilian patients suffering from specific listed conditions had to apply online at the ANVISA website to receive cannabidiol (CBD) products, which were imported mostly by the firm HempMeds Brasil. The cumbersome process involves attaching a doctor-signed report explaining the patient's need. These new regulations will allow both CBD and THC products to be directly available at pharmacies with a prescription. The regulations also establish standards for commercialization, distribution and prescription of medical cannabis products.

HempMeds Brasil, owned by California-based Medical Marijuana, Inc, applauded the new regulations, which will take effect 90 days after they are published in Brazil's federal register, the Diário Oficial da União.

"These new regulations to allow the rollout of cannabis products in pharmacies and drugstores create a new category of medicinal cannabis products in Brazil," said HempMeds Brasil vice president Caroline Heinz in a press release. "This change will allow patients almost immediate access to CBD products—a huge difference from today where the process takes three months. The approximate four million patients in Brazil can benefit from medical cannabis much easier with the ability to visit their doctor's office and go directly to a pharmacy. We hope that this will encourage more people to see how cannabis could help improve their health and wellness."

The THC products may take a little longer to become available, as foreign suppliers need to be established.

As Reuters notes in its write-up on the new regs, ANVISA's decision to prohibit domestic cultivation indicates that Brazil, under the rule of hard-right President Jair Bolsonaro, is not yet preparing to join neighbors Colombia and Uruguay in developing its own vertically integrated medical marijuana sector.

Hemp cultivation permitted —just barely
Separately, however a federal judge in Brasilia ruled Dec. 3 that one specific company may commence cultivation of hemp—that is, cannabis with a THC content of below 0.3%. The company in question is Schoenmaker Humako Agri-Floriculture, a subsidiary of Terra Viva, based in Holambra, in the agricultural interior of São Paulo state.

This is again an extremely limited decision, only applying to the one company that brought the case, which apparently intends to grow industrial hemp. However, as investment website Grizzle notes, the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture is now obliged to include hemp on the National Cultivar Register list. This could open to door to other companies applying to cultivate, and potentially to domestic production of hemp-derived CBD products.

Brazil passed its medical marijuana law in 2015, allowing importation, sale and use of CBD-only non-herbaceous cannabis products. Cannabis has been decriminalized in Brazil since 2006, but there is no provision for cultivation, and "alternative penalties" such as mandatory treatment programs may be imposed. Cannabis use is widespread, and international industry watchers have identified Brazil as the biggest potential market in Latin America. With the region's largest population, is also home to its greatest number of cannabis users—an estimated 4.2 million.

A small opening amid spiraling narco-violence
There is no sense that Brazil's government is looking to a legal cannabis sector as a solution to endemic narco-violence, as are the governments of Colombia and Mexico. And Brazil, alas, is fast catching up to these two hemispheric leaders in that particularly intractable social pathology.

This May, five months after Bolsonaro took office, the New York Times reported a massive escalation of police killings in anti-crime and anti-narco operations—558 deaths since the inauguration, or nearly five per day. These mostly took place in the favelas, or informal settlements of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, almost completely abandoned by the government except for increasingly militarized policing, often deploying helicopters and armored vehicles. This leap in deaths at the hands of the police is hardly surprising, as Bolsonaro had campaigned on the unseemly slogan "The only good criminal is a dead criminal."

But the power of Brazil's cartels, such as the notorious First Capital Command, has clearly not been broken. Even when their leaders are imprisoned, they continue to run their empires in cocaine and illicit cannabis from behind bars, often gaining de facto control of the prisons. In July, a clash between rival gangs left at least 57 dead, including 16 decapitated, at Altamira prison in the state of Pará—but the latest in a long and bloody series of riots and gang warfare in Brazil's prisons.

Cross-post to Cannabis Now

Graphic: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection


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