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420 with CNW — Brazilian Supreme Court Ends Criminalization of Cannabis Possession for Personal Use

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The Brazilian Supreme Court recently voted to decriminalize cannabis possession for personal use, joining other Latin American nations in this reform and potentially reducing its substantial prison population. The majority of the justices, since the discussions began in 2015, have supported this move.

The justices now need to decide on the maximum amount of cannabis considered for personal use, with the effective date of the ruling expected soon. The justices who favored the decision noted that decriminalization should only apply to personal use amounts, keeping the sale of drugs illegal.

A 2006 bill passed by the U.S. Congress sought to penalize those who carried minor amounts of drugs, including marijuana, with noncustodial sentences such as community service. However, critics argue that it was too ambiguous, lacking a specific amount to distinguish trafficking from personal.

In response to the Supreme Court’s deliberations, Congress is separately working on a proposal to strengthen drug laws, complicating the legal landscape regarding cannabis possession. The Senate approved an amendment in April criminalizing possession of any illegal substances. This proposal passed the lower House’s constitutional committee on June 12, 2024, and needs approval from at least one more committee before a full House vote.

Should lawmakers approve the bill, it would override the Supreme Court’s decision but could still face constitutional challenges.

Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco stated that it is not within the top court’s jurisdiction to decide on the matter. The court’s decision has long been awaited by legal scholars and activists in Brazil, a country with the world’s third-largest prison population. Critics argue that the current laws often result in users being convicted on trafficking charges and incarcerated in overcrowded prisons, where they face pressure to join gangs.

As of the end of 2023, Brazil had about 852,000 people incarcerated, nearly 25% of whom were detained for drug trafficking or possession. The prison system is overcrowded, and Black individuals are disproportionately affected, comprising more than two-thirds of the inmates.

According to a recent study by the Brazilian research company Insper, Black people were marginally more likely than whites to be charged with drug trafficking. More than 3.5 million records from the public security secretariat of Sao Paulo were examined in this investigation between 2010 and 2020.

Leftist politician Chico Alencar celebrated the decision on social media, calling it a major step forward for Brazil’s drug policy and an issue of public health rather than safety and punishment. However, Gustavo Scandelari, an expert on Brazil’s penal code, contended that even if the court establishes a cap on the amount for personal use, the decision might not result in significant changes. He pointed out that although money plays a role in defining whether someone is viewed as a dealer or a user, it is not the only way.

In other Latin American countries, medical cannabis is permitted, though often under strict regulations. Colombia decriminalized possession about 10 years ago, but a measure to regulate recreational use failed to pass in the Senate last August. Similarly, Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador allow medical use but prohibit possession and distribution for other purposes.

For cannabis companies that could have foreign markets in the sights, such as Canopy Growth Corp. (NASDAQ: CGC) (TSX: WEED), these developments in Brazil may be of more than casual interest since they could later open the door to broader cannabis-policy reforms that allow established companies to enter that market.

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