Cannabis in Brazil: Bolsonaro’s Stance on Legalization

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Brazil is a market boasting just shy of 210 million in population. This alone displays potential for an extremely competitive opportunity in cannabis. Vested interest in Brazil’s cannabis market have been keeping a close eye on the political developments and the recent elections. General elections were held in Brazil on October 7th, 2018 and the far-right wing nominee, Jair Bolsonaro was elected to the presidency. The outcome of the election has had the potential to either accelerate the cannabis legalization or put a dramatic stall to it for at least the next 4 years, subsequently putting it behind other countries in the Latin American cannabis space who are pushing forward.  

Bolsonaro has been open about his new shift in ideology in which he now favors a capitalistic approach to business and has been leaning on Paulo Guedes as a lead in his economic direction. Guedes, a University of Chicago trained economist, has an inclination for privatizing state companies, and loosening the guidelines for international trade. Investors have caught wind of these potential plans for the future of trade in Brazil and are now looking at it as a hopeful place to position their capital. Bolsonaro has also come out in strong favor of agri-business and used this as one of his largest platforms in the race. He greatly supports farmers and, although has been criticized for prioritizing this pro-business stance over preservation of the land and particularly of the Amazonian rain forest, we can predict how he might proceed with regulations regarding agriculture and commerce.

Despite this heavy support of agriculture and trade it likely won’t be impacting the cannabis industry during his time in office. He has made clear his position that there should be an extreme crack down on drug related offences and has come out unquestionably against cannabis legalization. He claims that legalization of cannabis would “benefit traffickers, rapists, and hostage takers” and expresses a desire for the military to be present in the school system because individuals “sell drugs and smoke marijuana openly.”  Bolsonaro has even gone so far as to vocalize his support for the Philippine’s President, Rodrigo Duterte, in his drug policy measures which authorizes the killing of those suspected of having involvement with drugs, in turn leading to over 12,000 deaths of citizens who never received a trial.

When Bolsonaro is inaugurated in January there will be a more clear idea of the path he will take with drug policy as he has not released anything concrete when it comes to policy reform. Nevertheless, the fact that he has been adamantly against the legalization of cannabis and wishes to intensify and militarize drug control points to the likelihood that Brazil will fall behind other countries when it comes to cannabis and possibly will not catch up for 4 to 8 years when the next change of government takes place.