Brazilian Catholic Church split over marijuana decriminalisation

marijuana decriminalisation

Brazil’s Catholic Church is deeply divided over potential moves as it weighs decriminalising possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The church’s conflicting stances reflect the polarised debate between liberal Supreme Court justices who back decriminalisation and conservative legislators pursuing harsher penalties.

With over 123 million Catholics, Brazil has the world’s largest Catholic population.

Lawyer Miguel Vidigal, head of the Brazilian Union of Catholic Jurists, vehemently opposes decriminalisation:

“Studies show marijuana is the entrance door for other drugs. It cannot be decriminalised” Vidigal told Crux. “Drugs are an evil in itself. They cause health, psychological and spiritual damage.”

However, Father Valdir Silveira who leads the episcopal conference’s Prison Pastoral Ministry, believes criminalisation fuels mass incarceration and violence. His views come from more than 18 years of working with prisoners.

“The policy of criminalising all drugs in all situations has resulted in the current crisis: mass imprisonment and growing violence” Silveira said.

“We cannot make decisions without a scientific basis. Unfortunately, that debate is completely dominated by emotional arguments.”

“No proof decriminalisation worsens violence”

While five Supreme Court justices have voted to decriminalise possession of small marijuana amounts, three opposed it. A 2006 drug law stopped punishing users as traffickers but failed to define allowable possession limits.

In contrast, the Senate is debating a bill from its president that would criminalise any marijuana possession to override potential Supreme Court decriminalisation.

When the Supreme Court debate began in 2015, Catholic bishops opposed marijuana decriminalisation, arguing it could increase addiction by expanding drug circulation, especially among youths.

Vidigal insists drug use impacts society, so “it is fallacious to say the state shouldn’t regulate drugs.”

But Silveira counters there’s no proof marijuana decriminalisation worsens violence. His Prison Pastoral claims the 2006 law led to disproportionate jailing of poor black youths while failing to curb drugs or prevent the growth of criminal gangs behind bars.

“We don’t need anything like that” Silveira said. “The war on drugs causes numerous deaths and is very expensive for the State.”


Catholic Herald


CathNews New Zealand


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