Brazil’s Elections and Cannabis

Brazil’s elections recently took place, with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva voted into a third term as Brazil’s president. To learn what the results mean for cannabis, we sat down with Rafael Arcuri of Brazil’s National Association of Industrial Hemp (ANC). While some challenges lie ahead, overall Lula’s return to power augurs well for cannabis reform in Latin America’s largest economy.

Q: Was the recent election significantly different than recent contests in Brazil?

A: This election was different on several points. Lula was the most voted president in history, with more than 60 million votes, but Jair Bolsonaro also had the most votes of a defeated candidate, with more than 58 million. It was the narrowest victory in history. Lula won with 50.9% of the votes and Bolsonaro got 49.1%. It was also the first time that a sitting president lost reelection.

In addition, Bolsonaro was the first president not to acknowledge defeat after the election, taking him more took more than two days to make a statement regarding the results. This generates a general scenario of social instability, but that should ease in the coming weeks.

Q: Besides new President, Brazil also elected a new Congress. How might this impact cannabis reform?

A: The configuration of Congress is undoubtedly more important than the isolated figure of the President. We have 513 federal deputies and 81 senators and this could be one of the most conservative legislatures in decades, which would seriously undermine cannabis-related bills.

However, we have seen successive signs that the Centrão, the most numerous group of parliamentarians in the congress, can align itself with the Executive’s positions, giving Lula greater governability.

We have seen the president of União Brasil, Luciano Bivar, say that his party will not oppose “in any way” the future government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. União Brasil has 59 elected deputies. President Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT) elected 68 more. The MDB, whose support for Lula in the second round was fundamental to its victory, has 42 more elected deputies. These are some numbers indicating that Lula may have greater latitude for governance than expected.

In addition, devoted supporters of Bolsonaro have already signaled support for Lula shortly after the second term result. Bishop Edir Macedo, one of Brazil’s most influential evangelical leaders, preached “forgiveness” to Lula and said that the faithful should not be sorry for the results of the polls. Evangelicals have growing relevance in the country, even though they elected fewer deputies than expected in these elections.

If the Lula government is able to engage in productive dialogue with the Centrão and with at least part of the evangelicals, this support will be added to the other left-wing parliamentarians and could mean a greater ease of approval for progressive initiatives. This will be even more likely if agribusiness parliamentarians gain additional understanding of the economic relevance of medical cannabis and industrial hemp.

Q: Beyond the negotiations President Lula can make in Congress, how can he directly influence the cannabis agenda in Brazil?

A: The President will appoint the heads of the Health Ministry, Agriculture Ministry, and ANVISA (Brazil’s FDA). These bodies have regulatory autonomy to legalize different uses of cannabis in Brazil, such as animal use, hemp food and cosmetics. In a country the size of Brazil, this would already have a significant impact on the world market, even if cultivation on national territory were not legalized.

ANVISA, for instance, can significantly alter the regulations regarding human food and cosmetics, by allowing the importation of hemp foods and cosmetics with or without cannabinoids. Even if the discussion regarding cultivation in national soil is postponed, human use of hemp and cannabis can increase dramatically.

The same is true for animal cannabinoids or animal feed. Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry has jurisdiction over the regulation of those uses and could open, with relative speed, a great market for foreign producers.

This is truly a great moment for international companies to start their activity in Brazil. As Lula said, love will return to Brazil and “in my government everyone will date”. This may be the beginning of a love affair between cannabis and the new government.

Thank you, Rafael.

At Harris Sliwoski, we are looking forward to seeing the cannabis initiatives that take shape in Brazil over the next few years. Our São Paulo office stands ready to assist international companies looking to enter the Brazilian market.

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