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Brazil to rule whether businesses can plant cannabis, potentially opening passage to legal cultivation

A Brazilian appeals court has agreed to rule on whether companies and farmers can plant cannabis in the country, which could open the door to legal cultivation for medicinal and industrial purposes after legislative efforts stalled in recent years.

The decision by the Superior Court of Justice (STJ), Brazil’s top appeals court for non-constitutional matters, was made public on March 14 and established its jurisdiction for a nationwide precedent regarding the import of seeds and planting of cannabis.

Now, all pending cases regarding permission to plant cannabis in the country will be frozen until the STJ makes a final and biding decision, two lawyers following the case said.

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Brazil allows the sale and production of cannabis products, but companies must import the key ingredients.

The court’s final ruling on cannabis, expected within the next year, could make it a trailblazer on a topic spurned by many in Brazil’s conservative-leaning Congress, like the Supreme Court’s 2011 ruling paving the way for same-sex marriage.

Brazil has banned growing Cannabis sativa L, the plant that makes hemp and marijuana. Researchers and cannabis firms have argued that Brazil’s tropical climate is ideally suited to make it a leading global supplier.

Agronomist Engineer Sergio Rocha, 36, works inside a cannabis greenhouse in Brazil, on Aug. 18, 2021. 

Agronomist Engineer Sergio Rocha, 36, works inside a cannabis greenhouse in Brazil, on Aug. 18, 2021.  (REUTERS/Washington Alves/File Photo)

Advocates argue the ban on growing domestically raises the final cost of medicines to the consumers who must rely on imports.

“Congress is a little afraid to decide on the cannabis issue, as it is a controversial one,” said Arthur Arsuffi, a lawyer representing biotech start-up DNA Solucoes em Biotecnologia in the case before the STJ. “So that has put off a decision and, given the number of lawsuits, the judiciary ends up having to settle the issue.”

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DNA has brought a civil lawsuit arguing for the right to import seeds and plant cannabis with higher levels of cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) and less tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive component in the plant. Hemp, which has less than 0.3% THC and far more CBD, has been touted by some advocates as beneficial for treating health conditions such as childhood epilepsy.

Jose Bacellar, chief executive of pharmaceutical firm VerdeMed, said courts may now lead the way on cannabis policy, as they did in Canada.

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However, Bacellar said there were risks associated with the STJ ruling on such a complex matter, which he said would be best settled by a bill in Congress to legalize hemp plantations.

Victor Miranda, a lawyer, said the STJ’s decision to set precedent on the matter was consistent with Brazilian jurisprudence and gave no clear sign of how it would ultimately rule on the merits of the case.

“It is hard to speculate on the result,” Miranda said. “But a STJ ruling is a sign that the court is worried about this matter.”

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