After a long period of dictatorship, and since the political liberalization of the 80’s, Brazilians have learned to value freedom of expression as a key democratic right. But the last weeks have shown that some issues such as marijuana legalization still don’t hold the status of being entitled to a legally sanctioned public debate. This year’s edition of the Marijuana March was prohibited by courts in 9 capital cities across the country due to allegations of illegal promotion of drug use. The theme provoked responses by many local bloggers.
“While in some countries marijuana use is accepted with restrictions, in Brazil the debate on the issue is not even permitted. Talking about marijuana has turned into a taboo, as the march was prohibited by the Public Ministry a few days before scheduled date, leaving no chance for appeals due to the lack of available time. It becomes clear the country is unable to allow its citizens to debate their relationship with some of the problems we have around here. Should we label a demonstration for legal reform as drug use promotion? To debate necessarily means to influence? There are some terms that are not well defined in the heads of the justices, which results in hindering the citizens from claiming their right: the freedom to express themselves.”
“Obviously, court decisions are to be followed, even the ones we consider as unconstitutional, as they hold the necessary presumption of legitimacy for the juridical safety of social and human relations regulated by the law — which is the higher value to be preserved in a legal system. But it does not mean that those decisions can’t be the object of academic and even political debate, under a critical perspective.The right to freedom of expression and to free gathering are guaranteed by the 5th article of our Constitution as fundamental values of the democratic regime. The democratic principle is the constitutional rule that determines not only the adoption of decision by a social or legislative majority, but also — and especially — the protection of the rights of minorities…. To subtract the right to protest against the terms of any law, criminal or not, from part of the citizenry is to injure to death the democratic regime. It subtracts its meaning, and becomes an imperial act, unsuitable for a Legal Democratic State…. If the postulation for the revoking of a law is not safeguarded by the presumption of the right to free expression, which behaviors could be protected by this right? Am I able to express that I am against the current laws, but can’t tell which of them and why?… Now a question starts: should pro-abortion demonstrations and other similar ones be also prohibited? Can it be understood as a promotion of abortion practice, which is a conduct listed in our criminal rule? If it can, the meaning of the Brazilian democracy will vanish.”
Cannabis was brought to Brazil by the first Africans arriving from Angola, and it’s use and cultivation was encouraged by the Portuguese, which resulted in it being culturally assimilated by the mestizos and by some Indian groups. Medical use was also common, mostly during the second part of the 19th century, and even advertised in Brazilian medical journals up to the first years of the 20th century. Some commenters focused on the cultural aspects of the censorship.
“Such prohibition in a city like Salvador, insults the meaning of the ethnic and cultural use of this plant, which is part of the African cultural heritage. About this aspect, Gilberto Freyre [Brazilian sociologist, cultural anthropologist, historian, journalist and congressman] framed it this way: “the religious traditions, as other forms of culture, or black cultures, transported to here, along with the shadows of the sacred trees themselves, with the smell of the very mystical plants — the marijuana, or diamba, for example — are the ones that are resistent in a more profound way, in Brazil, to ‘disafricanization’. It is much more than the blood, the color and the form of the men. Europe won’t win over them.” (Sobrados e Mucambos, 2003, p.797). Could Gilberto Freyre be framed as a marijuana use advocate?”
“Recently, the Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil presented a proposal to register Ayahuasca, an psychoactive mix of plants that composes the Santo Daime and Hoasca tea, as a National Cultural Heritage. If the ‘small death‘ can, why not the ‘Manga Rosa’, the ‘Cabeça de Nego’ and the ‘Cabrobó’ [popular types of Brazilian marijuana]? …. While we don’t reach a consensus, and even less a solution to the problem, the President of the Brazilian Bar Association Federal Council, Cezar Britto, defends the freedom of expression as a fundamental asset of a democratic state: “The biggest evil we can impose to a country is to mute, to censor thought”.”
The 20th century brought about the spreading of the notion of the plant as a great danger to individuals and society, and also a surge of international agreements for the adjustment of national laws criminalizing the use of cannabis. Ecologia Cognitiva offers a good account and links showing how the the early Twentieth Century American movie industry played a key role in disseminating the new cultural references for the plant, and the ideological elements displayed by some commenters adds up to the notion that politics seems to play a role bigger than science when it comes down to defining how harmful cannabis really is.
“If we take a closer look to the facts, we clearly perceive that the most common and dangerous myths and lies about the most used illegal substance in the world are conceived and spread by the US government, in total disagreement with the official scientific findings…. The 1936 film Reefer Madness (worth watching) started the persecution by portraying how just one inhale of the ‘damn smoke’ can lead healthy young people to an escalation of violence and extravagance that results in death and insanity. In spite of the declaration that the facts narrated in the film do not have any relation with real persons or situations, the film is aimed to ‘inform’ the ‘unprotected’ population about the ‘new number 1 public enemy’…. The famous 1972 research from the ‘National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse’, formed by specialists and congresspeople convened by then President Nixon, suggested in its final report that “we should de-emphasize marijuana as a problem” and affirmed that “drug uses for pleasure or other non-medical reasons are not intrinsically irresponsible”. These results did not gain attention in the political agenda at the time, and were totally ignored by the government and the following period was marked by great censorship of any research with psychoactive substances.
In 1988, after 4 years of study involving hundreds of testmonies and thousands of pages of documentation, Francis Young, DEA Administrative Law Judge published a report where he suggests reclassifying the dangerousness of cannabis, declaring: “it is reasonable to conclude that there exists safe uses for marijuana under medical supervision — to affirm the contrary is a clear error of judgement”. The official research was again not considered, and aproximately 10 years later President Clinton’s drug-czar (Barry Macfrey), declared to the press that “there is no trace of scientific evidence about safety or medical beneficials of marijuana use.” …. Meanwhile, in Europe, research ordered by the British government in 1996 registered an opinion that recomended the reclassification of the substance, indicating that “the negative aspects of the use should not be exaggerated: cannabis is no poison, and does not represent a high addiction level”. And the National Institute of Health (US) has promoted a workshop about the possible medical uses of cannabis, and among the conclusions it affirms that there may be some specific cases where the use of cannabis (smoked) surpasses the results of the medicines which utilizes the active principle (thc) in capsules.”
“…[F]ederal representative Marcelo Itagiba (PMDB-RJ), the former State Public Security Secretary who filed the suit against the demonstration — which resulted in its prohibition by the courts — declared that the march was illegal, as it promotes marijuana use: “The march was created to promote a crime, which is the consumption of drugs. I am not against freedom of expression, but this debate should not happen in a public space, but rather in the academic environment or in Congress. This is a movement of a dozen bourgeoisies who seek personal satisfaction through their own vices”. The representative Itagiba is fully right, but, poor man, he doesn’t know who he is dealing with, or he rather knows it well but dosen’t want to go deeper on the record: it is exactly amidst the academic “community”, and among the environmentalist NGOs, and in a disguised way, behind the scenes of the “progressive” — and radical — parties where the fight for drug decriminalization and further liberation is conceived. Ex-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the ‘vaseline’ [lubricant], and governor Sergio Cabral, a reader of “The State and the Revolution” (from Lenin), two typical byproducts of our ‘politically correct’ medium, are in favor of this move and work on its behalf whenever they find a chance. The thesis is that legalizing the production, commerce, distribution and control of the drug by the state, the violence around it would vanish in a magic touch…. The concrete fact is that in the last 50 years drugs have massively spread into an universal scale. Alongside, it has turned into one of the most lucrative businesses in the world, generating something around US$ 800 billion a year. International mobs and organized crime are behind it, but also the FARC’s guerrillas, the ideological and revolutionary interests of all kinds, not to mention the very police, the politicians and sectors of the justice system — exactly the ones who should fiercely combat the drug dealing.”
One thing is certain: this year’s edition of the Brazilian Marijuana March is to be remembered by activists from all the different positions of the spectrum. On one hand, it is the first time that the movement to legalize was spread across the country, and on the other, it is worth some reflection on what could be called a backfire in the repression strategy, as the issue earned even more visibility in the media. The two videos posted at Filipeta da Massa illustrate well the situation: the first is a brief documentary of the single legal March in Recife, Pernambuco and the other reports the negative reaction to the prohibition as shown on the main TV news program in Brazil.
Among the many different points-of-view, some people are just starting to approach the issue. For them, it seems illogical trying to understand something without having fair access to all sides of the debate. Kind of obvious, isn’t it?
“About the march: I came to know about it kind of 2 or 3 weeks ago, and I must confess that I found it ridiculous. I imagined that it would be a bunch of people who do not want anything from their lives, people who think they are great because of the drug, and that they would be smoking with that superior stand like saying ‘arrest me if you can’. But when I heard that there would be no use of the drug during the march, I backed off. I did it because I had the sense that it would be a serious initiative, even though the kind of people I’ve mentioned above would be there anyway, managing to ruin the good ideals of the initiative. Deep inside I thought it would not work, ’cause marijuana is a great taboo and nobody — from the people connected to politics — wants to be the first to debate its legalization. I don’t have a formed opinion about this. I’ve read a little folder about the march and I am not convinced if this should happen or not, it has its problems, it could bring some benefits, but I really don’t know what to say about it. If we could guarantee that the legalization would decrease the drug dealing, I would go to the march in order to truly support legalization, but as it is just a deduction — though a logic one — and not a sure thing… Anyway, the prohibition was an awful authoritarian decision, and such a thing will never have my support. The worst thing in this whole story is that nobody knows how to debate and be respectful. Everyone has their own opinion on the issue, and they just want to impose it over the others, but nobody knows how to be peaceful and convincing enough for that.”
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