By Felicity Clarke, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Close to 1,500 people including State Representative and ex-Minister of the Environment Carlos Minc, took to Ipanema’s beachfront last Saturday for the Marcha da Maconha (Marijuana March) calling for the legalization of cannabis.
Starting at Jardim de Alah in Leblon at 4PM, the green t-shirted crowd with a float, banners and marching band Orquestra Verde made their way along Avenida Vieira Souto to Aproador chanting for legalization of marijuana.
The demonstration was the first in a month of marches across Brazil which form part of the international Global Marijuana March, an annual rally started in New York in 1999. Saturday’s march in Ipanema was the sixth year the demonstration has taken place in the city.
Like last year, State Representative and ex-Minister of the Environment Carlos Minc was present at the event and vocal about his views on drug legislation, calling the current policy “a disaster”.
“Current drug policy is not democratic, is not preventative and is not effective” he said. “People don’t consume less drugs and the drug gangs aren’t any less powerful. Marijuana could be legalized and consumption decriminalized – it is these policies that weaken the drug gangs”.
His views were echoed by marchers, many of whom were sporting masks of famous faces such as Bob Marley, Ché Guevara and Marilyn Monroe while chanting “sou maconheiro, com muito orgulho, com muito amor” (“I’m a weed smoker with much pride, with much love”).
Although the chant didn’t apply to everyone in attendance supporting the cause such as Daniel Ferreira, a student from Flamengo, “I don’t smoke but I’m here because I’m against the drug traffickers and therefore support legalization”.
Other marchers emphasized the issue of civil liberty. When asked why he supported the campaign, Marcelo Porçedo, a lawyer from Copacabana, said “it’s very simple, it’s about freedom and people having the right to choose. Who are the government to say what I can or cannot do in my own home?”
Lawyer and political activist, André Barros, one of the principal organizers of Marcha da Maconha in Rio de Janeiro, expressed similar views saying “the government have many things to worry about for example education, public health. But the state shouldn’t be paternalistic, controlling what people can and can’t do. It’s a question of personal liberty.”
He also went on to describe the growth of the movement in Brazil which started spontaneously in 2002 with a Portuguese man handing out leaflets on the beach and 300 people turning out for the first march. In 2008, the march was prohibited with marchers including Barros himself being arrested, “but this only served to strengthen the movement” he asserts.
Following Rio’s march on Saturday, marches will take place in eight further cities across the country during May (dubbed “Green May” by organizers) including Belo Horizonte on May 8th, São Paulo on May 23rd and finally Brasília on May 27th.