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How the hemp industry can save economy in hinterland areas in Brazil, and also help combat the illegal cultivation in the territory called “The Marijuana Polygon”.

By Sergio Vidal* – sergiociso@yahoo.com.br

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The brazilian hinterland area and “The Marijuana Polygon” [Wikipedia]

 The Brazilian Hinterlands, also called “Sertão”, is the region of this country with the lowest rainfall, where water scarcity is not only a limiting factor of economic development, but influences the quality of life of many people and in all aspects of a large number of communities.

With a set of specific natural features, the Hinterland is a habitat with a total area occupying much of the eight-state area (Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte and Sergipe), plus a part of northern region of Minas Gerais state.

In the Sertão there is an region covering an area of approximately 950,000 square km, called officially the “Drought Polygon”, where the arid climate characteristics are even more intense, life is harder and adaptation becomes crucial for survival. This region has always been difficult for agricultural or livestock production and, over the years, to ensure survival, many farmers were forced to engage in the illicit cultivation of marijuana.

After the ban of the herb in 1932 by the Brazilian government, when the cultivation and trade became illegal, increasingly repressed and persecuted, the price of marijuana went up fast and grass turned into a business for criminals who saw an opportunity to explore the traditional farming already done by many peasant families in the region. Such families began to be harassed and exploited by criminal groups, a practice that still occurs today, so much so that some studies show that about 40% of the marijuana consumed in Brazil is derived from the Polygon.

Marijuana – a medicinal plant

Marijuana is cultivated by various civilizations for over 12,000 years, for varied purposes and only in the early 20th century it was banned by some countries and in 1961 worldwide. Over the millennia, as was sown by different groups around the world, it was changing, exploring their genetic potential, adapting to the most varied climates, while was selected according to the use to which they serve.

Today it has many varieties, each with its specific characteristics is the general structure of the plant, the shape and size of leaves, height and diameter of the trunk, structure of the flowers, or biochemical composition of medicinal resin. The herb of the resin produced in larger quantities in the flowers of female plants, is the part where the medicinal active ingredients, called phytocannabinoids.

In recent decades numerous scientists and researchers in different countries, has conducted various types of studies and rescued the medicinal value of marijuana, according to the extracted resin or the herbal herb base are proven effective to treat diseases and relieve various symptoms, including which: AIDS, sickle cell anemia, anorexia, anxiety, arthritis, ataxia, cancer types, dependence on drugs, digestive disorders, Crohn’s disease, dystonia, chronic pain, migraine headache, cramps, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, spasticity, glaucoma, rheumatism, among others.

This has generated a worldwide movement that, in different countries, resulted in the legalization and regulation of the cultivation, production, trade and distribution of cannabis-based medicines and their natural extracts for medicinal use and proliferation of new studies and research.

Hemp: Marijuana that will not get you high

There are more than 100 known phytocannabinoids, many of which have medicinal properties, of which only THC is considered to have side effects capable of causing psychoactivity (i.e., “the head high”).

Some varieties of cannabis are characterized by a resin with a higher proportion of THC than other phytocannabinoids and these are the types of crops grown for use as a recreational drug, decided to psychoactive side effects. These are also the types of best-known herb, since, as a result of the ban, are also the most present in the media and popular knowledge on the subject.

However, are not the only ones with medicinal properties and some cannabis strains have even lower THC rates at the same time that have large amounts of other phytocannabinoids, including CBD, or cannabidiol, reclassified for medical use by the National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA ) earlier this year.

Hemp is the name given to the pot when it is cultivated primarily for industrial purposes with the aim of utilizing the trunk for obtaining fibers and pulp of his or its seeds and the oil extracted from them. According to a report published in February 2015 by the Congressional Research Service, an organization of technical and scientific nature responsible for guiding the US Congress and the White House in policy decisions currently are more than 25,000 products that can be made using as raw raw hemp, separated into nine types of market: agriculture, textiles, recycling, automotive, food and drinks, paper, construction and personal care / medicines.

Hemp strains are specially selected to have a lot of producing fiber and 0.3 to 1 percent of THC maximum, varying according to the law in each country.

According to the report, currently are about 30 countries where the industrial use of non-psychoactive cannabis is legalized, some of which never criminalized this market, with China triggered the largest producer. The document also states that it is difficult to estimate the size and profitability of the global market, but the Association of Hemp Industries (Hemp Industries Association – HIA) said that only in 2013 were 581 million consumed hemp products in the US alone, between domestic production and import, revealing the economic potential that this market can achieve.

Production for Fiber and Seed vs. Production for Flowers and Resin

Hemp is an inexpensive culture and high production, with raw material of one of the strongest fibers that exist and requiring much less work, fertilization, irrigation and acreage that also other traditional textile crops such as cotton and linen. Cannabis with low levels of THC can both be cultivated for the production of flowers and resin, where the purpose is to obtain a raw material for products with medical purposes or for the production of fibers and seed production focused on the industrial market.

In the photos below and see the differences between planting techniques.

Charlotte's Web plants rich in CBD but with low THC content [Brennan Linsley/AP]
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Charlotte’s Web plants rich in CBD but with low THC content [Brennan Linsley/AP]

When grown for flowers or medicinal active principles resin and cannabis is seeded with enough space between one plant and the other to the lateral branches are developed and can produce more flowers.

The male plants are eliminated as soon as identified at the beginning of flowering, so females can achieve maximum production of flowers and resin. This applies in cultures with strains with low levels of THC and high CBD or varieties with equal proportion of CBD: THC, even with plants rich in THC, which can also be used for medicinal purposes in countries where they can be legally grown.

When cultivated for obtaining plants or seeds are sown fibers as close as possible, as they grow competing for light and develop the maximum possible height. There is no development of branches and side branches and inflorescences focus only on the top of the plant.

As there is no separation between males and females, also almost no production of flowers or resin. The few flowers of the plants at the top are filled with seeds. But even if the raw material coming from focused crops for industrial use can be used for medicinal production, even though the extracts obtained in this process contain proportionately less of the active principles of the extracts derived productions aimed specifically for medical use.

Industrial Hemp and Brazilian Hinterland

Anyone who has deepened a little more in the history of Brazil that do not have schools know that since the beginning of colonization until the early 20th century, many Brazilians have cultivated legally marijuana in various regions of the country, including the government, through the Real Feitoria Hemp and other initiatives. This had as the main objective the extraction of plant fibers at the time leading textile crop in the world.

But the cultivation was so widespread culturally there were also many uses for medicinal purposes and its seeds, while not having active ingredients, but only beneficial nutrients and oils were used as human food and raw material for fuel oil for lamps, among others uses recorded in documents. Various documents and studies show that since colonization until its ban in 1932, and even then, the plant in nature, herb extracts or remedies made with it were considered legitimate use and recommended by doctors and healers to treat different diseases. The hemp industry in the country was so intense that in 1876 came to be considered the main product of our agriculture.

Nota a Imprensa 035-2013-(Operacao-Resgate I - Erradicacao de Maconha)-Foto-07
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Brazilian federal police burn a marijuana plantation in the Hinterlands [Marcos Noticias Pernambuco]

Today the Brazilian government maintains a blind war to all marijuana use in the name of combating drug trafficking, supposedly to protect public and individual health. Every year, over the months, the government destroys many hectares of plantations, seize tons of marijuana grown illegally, incinerates everything and criminal processes involved.

This war is so blind and stupid than in 1997, when California had started the regulation of medicinal uses, for pure prejudice the Federal Narcotics Council, currently National Council for Drug Policy (CONAD), denied the request of the Pharmaceutical Laboratory of Pernambuco (LAFEPE) to begin research on the production and effectiveness of drugs made cannabis base.

On the other hand, every day, more and more people seek access to cannabis and its natural extracts-based drugs and, in addition to having to face a tough bureaucracy to get permission to make medical use, are faced with the lack of a national market and become hostages of the obligation to import the drug. Furthermore, most of the people authorized to use are even used plant extracts with low concentrations of phytocannabinoids and terpenes, as they are by-products originating from plantations for textile industry and not be grown exclusively for medical purposes and, Therefore, they have low production of resin.

Cultivated for the production of medicines or the hemp industry, plants of cannabis adapt well to the arid climate of the Hinterland and are already grown clandestinely throughout the territory. The regulation of the hemp industry and medical uses varieties with low THC content can be a solution not just to make the Brazilian backlands a pole producer inserted in the national economy, but also to give the peasant population real front alternatives to harassment and exploitation criminals linked to trafficking currently taking place.

But after all the hemp and marijuana for medical purposes are legal or illegal in Brazil?

This is no easy answer because it involves not just what it says Brazil’s drug law, but also international treaties on the subject, of which Brazil is a signatory. We can say that on the issue of medicinal use Brazil legalized without regulation.

The law 11.343 say that the State may issue a special permission by the National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA), allowing the cultivation, production, distribution, use etc. as long as for medical or scientific purposes only. But despite that, there is no effective regulation of this law. So, we got the legal foundation, but there are no rules, resolutions, regulations, decrees, or protocols defining what are the procedures in cases related to the subject.

Only since 2014, when patients, their families, researchers and activists, began to look for and press the ANVISA to request permission and be able to legally make medical use of phytocannabinoids is that the state began regulating the procedures related to the subject, but if only for products from non-psychoactive varieties, i.e., products with less than 1 percent of THC.

At first, even the Agency knew what procedures to adopt to meet the growing demand for permits for import of medicines and, gradually developing specific protocols to meet each case. Only in early 2015 ANVISA began regulating the import of products containing CBD, but kept the veto to those who have more than 1 percent THC. Actually some companys sell legaly hemp extract and other products rich in CBD, and with less than 1 percent THC content.

In practice, in Brazil there is no company producing cannabis for medicinal purposes or growing hemp for industrial use. But this also because no company or investor, or national or from another country, sought to invest accordingly.

The country can regulate the matter as it sees fit, as all other nations where the medical use of marijuana or hemp industry are legalized, like Brazil, have also signed international treaties on drugs, in which they undertake to criminalize the cultivation and production of cannabis for non-medical purposes. Even the treaties on drugs says that countries may regulate the issue of medicinal uses in whatever way is most convenient for each nation, just by having a responsible agency that will report to the United Nations on the matter.

With regard to the cultivation of hemp and its industrial uses, it is clear that international treaties on drugs do not interfere in this matter.

This means that there is no article or clause in the Treaties or any other outside commitment to prevent Brazil from fully legalize and regulate the cultivation, production and medicinal and industrial uses of hemp. By doing so we would not be breaking any of the articles of the international treaties.

In theory, or in fact, we are already doing this, since the 2006 law legalized the medicinal uses, although lacking regulation. However, in practical reality lack a lot of political will in the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary to make the country into the debate regarding this issue and fail to boycott the future of the nation, both from an economic point of view and from the point of view of the rights of citizens access to health.

But nothing will happen if there are no citizens, institutions, social groups, business and other civil society actors pushing for these changes to occur. I hope these changes will not take long to happen, or that we are forced to continue only to dream of being the country of the future, with our feet mired in outdated laws and public policies.

 

*Editor’s note: Sergio Vidal is an anthropologist, president of the Multidisciplinary Association for the Study of Medical Marijuana (AMEMM – www.amemm.org) and researcher of the Brazilian Social Studies Association on Drug Use (ABESUP – www.abesup.org).

 

References

Jean França. História da Maconha no Brasil. Editora Três Estrelas, 2015. Brasil

Jack Herer. “O Rei Vai Nu: O cânhamo e a conspiração contra a marijuana.” Editora Via Óptima, 2000. Portugal.

Valerie Lebaux. “Cannabis and Cannabinoides under the United Nations Drug Control Conventions.” In: Cannabis sativa e substâncias canabinóides em medicina, Centro Brasileiro de Informações sobre Drogas Psicotrópicas – CEBRID, 2004. São Paulo. http://www.encod.org/info/IMG/pdf/CannabisFinal.pdf

Moreira, Erika Macedo. A criminalização dos trabalhadores rurais no Polígono da Maconha/ Erika Macedo Moreira, UFF/ Programa de PósGraduação em Sociologia e Direito. Niterói, 2007.

http://www.dominiopublico.gov.br/download/teste/arqs/cp052175.pdf

Congressional Research Service Report. Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity, fevereiro de 2015. EUA. https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32725.pdf

Relatório do Departamento de Economia Agrícola da Universidade do Kentucky. Economic Considerations for Growing Industrial Hemp: Implications for Kentucky’s Farmers and Agricultural Economy. 2013. EUA. http://www2.ca.uky.edu/cmspubsclass/files/EconomicConsiderationsforGrowingIndustrialHemp.pdf

Chris Conrad. Hemp: Uso medicinal e nutricional da maconha. Editora Record, 2001. Brasil.

 

 

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