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Brazil’s Top Court Decriminalizes Cannabis For Personal Use

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Brazil’s Supreme Court has voted to decriminalize possession of cannabis for personal use.

While this ruling does not legalize cannabis for personal use, it may aim to reduce the penalties for possession.

The decision was delivered on Tuesday, with eight of the eleven top court judges voting in favor of keeping possession of small amounts of cannabis as an “illicit act” that does not warrant criminal prosecution.

The judges are set to discuss today the amount of cannabis that distinguishes a casual user from a trafficker, with proposed thresholds of up to 60 grams.

Lawyers defending a prisoner who received an additional sentence for concealing three grams of cannabis in his cell brought the case to the Supreme Court, with the trial beginning in 2015 and facing multiple interruptions, according to Radio France Internationale.

Activists and legal scholars have long awaited the Supreme Court’s ruling, arguing that current legislation often results in users being convicted of trafficking for possessing even small amounts of drugs. Critics contend that these individuals are then incarcerated in overcrowded prisons, where they are compelled to join prison gangs.

Brazilian drug law enacted in 2006 criminalizes buying, possessing, transporting, or bringing drugs for personal use, though with a light penalty. While it eliminated prison sentences for personal use, it did not specify the quantity that differentiates personal use from trafficking, the latter carrying a severe prison term.

Therefore, this determination was left to the discretion of police, prosecutors, and trial judges. Each judge has the discretion to determine the quantity of marijuana that constitutes personal use versus drug trafficking. Top judges who support decriminalization argue that this interpretation reinforces bias, particularly against poor and Black individuals.

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A recent study by the Brazilian research and education institute Insper found that Black individuals caught with drugs by police were slightly more likely to be charged as traffickers than their white counterparts. The study analyzed over 3.5 million records from Sao Paulo’s public security secretariat from 2010 to 2020.

Brazil ranks behind the U.S. and China in terms of the highest prison populations. As of December 2023, official data shows that approximately 852,000 people are incarcerated in Brazil. Nearly 25% of these individuals were arrested for drug possession or trafficking, according to the World Prison Brief, as reported by AP News.

While adult use is still illegal, medical cannabis is available with low THC potency. Nevertheless, its availability has also been a contentious issue, with patients who need to seek court approval to use CBD.

Last year, the Supreme Court allowed some patients to grow cannabis for medical purposes, following the health regulator’s 2019 approval of guidelines for selling medicinal products derived from cannabis. However, Brazil remains one of the few countries in Latin America that has not decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use.

While the Supreme Court was considering decriminalization, the Senate introduced and approved a constitutional amendment to criminalize marijuana possession in any quantity. This bill is now in the lower house. In a predominantly conservative Congress, the Constitution and Justice Committee approved the proposal in a 47-17 vote two weeks ago.

Several countries have decriminalized recreational cannabis use in recent years, eliminating prison sentences for users, though legalization remains uncommon. In Latin America, Uruguay became the first country to legalize cannabis in 2013. In Europe, Germany, Malta, and Luxembourg have also legalized cannabis for personal use.

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