In Indonesia, the legalization of medical cannabis driven by a mother’s fight for her son

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The legalization of medical cannabis in Indonesia resurfaced after a mother named Santi openly requested medical cannabis for her son Pika who has Japanese encephalitis, a viral disease transmitted by mosquito bites.

Santi Warastuti had previously submitted a court petition to review Indonesia’s Narcotics Law along with two other women to the country’s Constitutional Court in November 2020, but it was not granted.

“This medical cannabis is urgent for me, because Pika, my child is still not free from his seizures,” Santi said on the sidelines of a protest last week. His picture with a “Help my son get medical cannabis” sign has gone viral on Indonesian social media.

A strict no-go policy

Pika would need CBD oil, which is still illegal in Indonesia. A fortiori, cannabis for medical use comes into conflict with Law No. 35/2009 on narcotics.

Article 8, paragraph 1, of this law clearly explains that the use of class I narcotics, which includes cannabis in Indonesia, is prohibited, even in the context of health care.

Research on Class I drugs can also only be carried out after obtaining the Minister’s approval on the recommendation of the head of the Food and Drugs Control Agency. In these regulations, cannabis is included as a class I narcotic along with heroin, cocaine, opium, cocaine leaves, jicing, cathinone, ecstasy and 65 other types.

Government policy is based on the United Nations decision to include cannabis in Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961.

However, changes took place in December 2020. The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) removed cannabis from this list, which could start a change in Indonesia.

The government launches a review of the law

The discussions around the legalization of medical cannabis in Indonesia returned to the carpet at the end of May. A government commission has questioned the government’s attitude towards narcotics for medical purposes.

Asrul Sani, a member of Commission III of the Indonesian House of Representatives, admitted to receiving many suggestions from the public regarding the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

“We cannot deny that, to some extent, cannabis can be part of medicine. Now, to what extent is the government going to open the space for this? asked Asrul.

In 2017, Fidelis Arie Sudewarto, a civil servant, was arrested for planting 39 cannabis plants by the National Narcotics Agency (BNN).

The cannabis was grown to treat his wife Yeni Riawati, who was diagnosed with syringomyelia, the growth of cysts in the spinal cord. His wife eventually died 32 days after Fidelis was arrested by the BNN.

Responding to this statement, the Deputy Minister of Law and Human Rights, Eddy OS Hiariej, said that the purpose of the Narcotics Act was not only to eradicate drug trafficking, but also to guarantee the availability of narcotics for research and health.

“That means there is a health aspect here, so it is possible that, for example, cannabis for medical use could be used…”.

In an interview, Deputy Chairman of Committee III of the Indonesian House of Representatives, Desmond Junaidi Mahesa, said on June 28 that he would consider the proposed revision of Law No. 35/2009 on narcotics in order to possibly legalize medical cannabis.

“We will first look at the value of benefits and harms. From the studies that I know of, it turns out that the value of the health and economic benefits is extraordinary, and the harms are very low,” Desmond said.

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