Will Medical Cannabis Escape the Carnage of Philippines President Duterte's Drug War?

By Jon Young on June 11, 2017

The Philippine House of Representatives—against the backdrop of a nation enmeshed in a deadly war on drugs led by President Rodrigo Duterte—endorsed the use of medical marijuana (MMJ) just a day after the reinstatement of the death penalty for drug-related crimes. If passed, House Bill 180 would create a framework for qualified patients with a state-issued identification card to see designated MMJ physicians, purchase MMJ at state-run medical cannabis compassionate centers and have a qualified cannabis caregiver. 

Rep. Rodolfo Albano III authored the bill, and its sponsor, Rep. Seth Jalosjos, introduced it on Albano’s behalf, saying MMJ "will benefit thousands of patients suffering from serious and debilitating diseases."

Jalosjos cited studies showing the "established effects" of cannabis on controlling epileptic seizures, pain management, symptoms associated with HIV/AIDS and palliative care in end-stage cancer treatment, according to ABS-CBN news.

This comes as President Duterte's violent war on drugs has amassed a death toll nearing 8,000 people—mostly poor men, women and children—a third of which were killed by police and the rest by unknown shooters. Even so, Rep. Albano believes Congress will approve his bill.

"I have high hopes under the Duterte administration that this measure would be enacted into law," Albano told the Philippine Star. "Finally, there is hope for our people, especially our children, who suffer from medical conditions like epilepsy, cancer and multiple sclerosis. Unlike many medical professionals, President Duterte has an open mind on medical cannabis." 

While campaigning for the presidency last year, Duterte stated he was open to the legalization of medical cannabis even as he promised to crack down on drugs in general.

"Medicinal marijuana, yes, 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… used for medical purposes," Duterte said

A surprising statement, coming from a man who has likened himself to Hitler. "If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have…," he said, pointing to himself. "Hitler massacred three million Jews ... there’s three million drug addicts. There are. I'd be happy to slaughter them." (Story continues below.)

Now, a year into Duterte's presidency, the Philippines are in the midst of a bloodbath as plain-clothed officers and vigilantes often summarily execute anyone suspected of dealing, or even using illicit drugs. The reinstatement of the death penalty, which only applies to dealers, seems irrelevant as Duterte has already encouraged the public to kill drug addicts and has given the police a green light for extra-judicial killings. 

"These sons of whores are destroying our children. I warn you, don’t go into that, even if you’re a policeman, because I will really kill you," said Duterte. "If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful."

After statements like these, it's no wonder reports by Amnesty International and other human rights agencies have found that many official accounts of extra-judicial killings indicate cover-ups and the planting of evidence, as well as payments between $100 to $300 per person for the killings of those suspected of dealing or using drugs.

According to a report by Amnesty International, “Family members and witnesses repeatedly contested the police description of how people were killed. Police descriptions bore striking similarities from incident to incident; official police reports in several cases documented by Amnesty International claim the suspect’s gun 'malfunctioned' when he tried to fire at police, after which they shot and killed him. In many instances, the police try to cover up unlawful killings or ensure convictions for those arrested during drug-related operations by planting 'evidence' at crime scenes and falsifying incident reports—both practices the police officer said were common.”

Even so, according to a poll by Pulse Asia, 78 percent of Filipinos approve of Duterte’s performance as President, and 76 percent “trust” him, in a large part due to his “tough on crime” tactics and apolitical no-nonsense statements so many find to be appealing in the age of political correctness.

In a leaked transcript of a telephone call between President Duterte and our own outspoken president, this is what Trump had to say.

“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” he said, according to the NY Times. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

Duterte’s war on drugs makes it a confusing landscape for MMJ legalization efforts, however likely it is to succeed in the coming months. If it passes, how many would be willing to risk using MMJ when an unverified report by a neighbor could have the police knocking your door down? And while Duterte seems to be okay with medical cannabis, recreational use of cannabis in the Philippines remains out of the question. 

“If you just smoke it like a cigarette, I will not allow it, ever,” said Duterte. “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.”

At least that much seems certain.

Photo credits: Wikipedia and Flickr.

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