There are few places in the world where it is more dangerous to be a recreational cannabis connoisseur than the Philippines. The country’s President, Rodrigo Duterte, has built an international reputation on his violently tough on drugs policies and has even received condemnation from the UN. So it comes as somewhat of a surprise that Filipinos could also become the first in their region to legalize medical marijuana.
That’s right, the scariest place on earth to spark up could soon allow its citizens to access the medical alternative that’s gaining notoriety around the world.
In early March of 2017, the government of the Philippines voted to introduce a bill for medical marijuana legalization just one day after the death penalty was reinstated for drug-related offenses.
Rep. Rodolfo Albano III authored the bill known by the number identifier 180. Contrary to what many international observers may believe, Albano claims that the country’s recently elected president could help to give citizens the medicine they need.
“I have high hopes under the Duterte administration that this measure would be enacted into law.” Albano told PhilStar “Finally, there is hope for our people, especially our children, who suffer from medical conditions like epilepsy, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.”
It’s a sense of optimism that’s is understandably surprising when you consider Duterte’s record in the Philippines. The president was elected in 2016 on a promise to combat dealers and consumers alike in the most violent of ways. Since launching his war on drugs at the beginning of 2017, more than 7,000 people have been killed without ever being brought to trial.
According to Human Rights Watch, 3,116 of those deaths have been at the hands of police while the rest are claimed to be committed by, “unidentified gunmen” and security forces. The police and government insist that these deaths are the result of turf wars between rival drug lords while critics claim that the government is encouraging vigilante justice by turning a blind eye.
As of March, trafficking in illegal substances can land you a death sentence for the first time since Filipinos abolished capital punishment in 2006, while simple possession is punishable by life in prison.
But while the government’s war on drugs has marijuana consumers trapped in a chaotic mess, the main focus of law enforcement seems to be shabu, the local term for methamphetamine. According to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s most recent report from 2015, shabu accounts for 95 percent of drug arrests.
With such a high focus on a single substance, cannabis has been given a chance to escape Duterte’s grip. In fact, the President has even expressed his support for its medical application citing recent studies that prove its usefulness.
“Medicinal marijuana, yes,” Duterte once told reporters on the campaign trail, “Because it is really an ingredient of modern medicine now. There are drugs right now being developed or already in the market that [have] marijuana as a component.”
However, there is a limit to Duterte’s enthusiasm for that miracle leaf, as he goes on to threaten anyone who would dare to consume it for its recreational benefits.
“If you just smoke [marijuana] like a cigarette,” Duterte says “I will not allow it, ever. It remains to be a prohibited item, and there’s always a threat of being arrested. If you choose to fight the law enforcement agency, you die.”
The government has yet to approve Bill 180, but its main provisions outline that it is only to be used for medical purposes. It even goes as far as to specify the illnesses for which medical cannabis would be permitted including cachexia, severe pain, severe nausea, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
Patients will be issued medical cards if they qualify for treatment, while others will be allowed a license to create Medical Cannabis Compassionate Centers which will be permitted to grow, transport and distribute medicinal marijuana in the Philippines.