SÃO PAULO – A march through the streets of Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo, reunited thousands of people calling for the legalisation of marijuana on Saturday.
Police said 3,000 people took part in the march, which was accompanied by only 120 police officers accompanied – far fewer that have been seen at the recent anti-World Cup protests, when police have regularly outnumbered protesters.
The Marcha da Maconha (Marijuana March) started at the world-famous MASP art museum, on Avenida Paulista, where participants painted their slogans, singers gave performances and speakers gave lectures on the topic.
The march then occupied São Paulo’s central business avenue, Avenida Paulista, and wove its way through Consolação towards Praça Roosevelt.
“There were no arrests. The march was peaceful; they stuck to the agreed route. There was no incident, no trouble,” police captain Sheila Cunha was quoted by the G1 news portal as saying.
Organisers, however, say 15,000 people took to the streets to demand the Brazilian government legalise the drug. Correspondents at the event say the number was closer to the police estimate.
The crowd, a mixture of ages although dominated by people in their 20s and 30s, used colourful banners, cannabis leaf-shaped hats, and giant model “joints” to call for the legalisation of marijuana.
Many slogans rejected warnings of its harm to human health, arguing it is a natural product that has been used by generations.
Some went further, believing that the legalisation of cannabis could have far-reaching positive results.
Lucas Oliveira, an economics student from the Federal University of Santa Catarina, said he had come to the march in São Paulo because the fight to legalise marijuana was “one of the biggest issues of our time” as it “encapsulated other problems with society”, including public security and healthcare services.
“The legislation of marijuana is a very is at the heart of the solution to many of the problems faced by the entire Third World,” he said. “The delays in social and economic development are directly linked with this issue of drugs, particularly marijuana as it is the world’s most consumed drug. So we must legalise it the whole world over.”
São Paulo salesperson Hélcio Beuclair, 29, said he came to see the march out of curiosity:
“I don’t use marijuana, but I have friends who do, and I believe it is now time of the country to legalise it, following in our neighbour Uruguay’s footsteps. Just because I don’t use it doesn’t mean others shouldn’t be able to. Alcohol and cigarettes do much more harm to your health.”
Many of the people on the march were smoking marijuana and some young people graffitied “Legaliza já!” (Legalise it now!) on public and private property, but police did not intervene and maintained a subtle presence.
Marijuana is illegal in Brazil, but personal consumption is largely tolerated. However, sale and production carry jail sentences.
Brazil’s neighbour to the south, Uruguay, recently became the world’s first country to legalise and centrally control production, sales and use of marijuana.