A Brazilian appeals court has agreed to decide whether businesses 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 of 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 over a national precedent regarding the importation of seeds and the planting of cannabis.
Now, all pending cases involving permission to plant cannabis in the country will be frozen until the STJ makes a final, binding decision, said two lawyers handling the case.
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Brazil allows the sale and production of cannabis products, but companies must import key ingredients.
The court’s final ruling on cannabis, expected within the next year, could make it a pioneer on an issue rejected by many in Brazil’s conservative-leaning Congress, such as the 2011 Supreme Court ruling paving the way for intermarriage by the same sex.
Brazil has banned the cultivation of Cannabis sativa L, the plant that produces hemp and marijuana. Researchers and cannabis companies have argued that Brazil’s tropical climate is ideal for making it a leading global supplier.
Proponents argue that the nationwide ban on growing increases the ultimate cost of medicines for consumers who have to rely on imports.
“Congress is a little afraid to decide on the cannabis issue, as it is controversial,” said Arthur Arsuffi, a lawyer representing biotech start-up DNA Solucoes em Biotecologia in the case before the STJ. “So this has postponed a decision and given the number of lawsuits, the judiciary ends up having to settle the matter.”
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DNA filed a civil suit claiming 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 much more CBD, has been touted by some proponents as beneficial for treating health conditions such as childhood epilepsy.
Jose Bacellar, chief executive of pharmaceutical company VerdeMed, said the courts could now lead the way on cannabis policy, as they have in Canada.
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However, Bacellar said there were risks associated with the STJ ruling on such a complex issue, which he said would be best resolved by a congressional bill to legalize hemp plantations.
Victor Miranda, a lawyer, said the STJ’s decision to establish a precedent on the matter was consistent with Brazilian jurisprudence and gave no clear indication of how it would ultimately rule on the merits of the case.
“It’s hard to speculate on the outcome,” Miranda said. “But an STJ ruling is a sign that the court is concerned about this matter.”