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Fresh call for Indonesia to legalise medical marijuana

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Under Indonesian law, cannabis is a type-1 narcotic, meaning it is forbidden for medical use and its production is explicitly banned except for certain research purposes. Shutterstock/Mahony

Fresh call for Indonesia to legalise medical marijuana

A grieving mother has made yet another call for Indonesia to legalise the use of cannabis for medical purposes. The substance is banned in the country under the 2009 Narcotics Law, which is one of the world’s strictest drug regulations.

Dwi Pertiwi, the mother of Musa bin Hassan Pedersen, who lived with cerebral palsy until his death at the age of 16, joined two fellow mothers and a coalition of activist groups to file a petition challenging the law with the Constitutional Court on November 21.

The preliminary hearings had barely begun when Musa died on December 26 after his condition deteriorated as a result of breathing difficulties and hypoxia, according to the coalition.

Musa had caught pneumonia at only 40 days old, the coalition said, but diagnostic and treatment errors had resulted in the development of meningitis, an inflammation of the brain that, in infants, is a risk factor for cerebral palsy.

In 2016, Musa underwent cannabis therapy in Australia for a month, which, according to Dwi, caused a significant improvement in his health. He no longer experienced seizures and did not have to take his prescribed medication.

The Advocacy Coalition for Narcotics Usage for Medication said: “Under such conditions, according to Dwi, Musa could more easily release phlegm without having to struggle [to breathe] like he did in the last days of his life.”

Upon returning to Indonesia, Dwi had to stop her son’s therapy or face years in prison – even for the mere possession of marijuana.

“To date, Dwi remains committed to [the cause] because she doesn’t want other kids to be like Musa, who could have actually received good treatment if it was not banned by the law,” one of Dwi’s lawyers, Erasmus Napitupulu of the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR), told the Jakarta Post.

Under the law, cannabis is a type-1 narcotic, meaning it is forbidden for medical use and its production is explicitly banned except for certain research purposes. It is listed alongside 65 other drugs, including opium, cocaine and methamphetamine. The law places narcotics into three classifications, and those that are not listed as type 1 may be used for medical or more general research purposes.

The use of cannabis is punishable by up to four years in prison in Indonesia.

The illegal possession of marijuana is punishable by a maximum of 12 years in prison and a maximum of eight billion rupiah ($563,000) in fines. Producing, exporting, importing or distributing marijuana can result in a prison sentence of up to 15 years and a 10 billion rupiah fine. Those found guilty of being involved in the “marijuana trade” can face life sentences and a 10 billion rupiah fine.

In their petition, Dwi and the two other mothers asserted that the medical marijuana ban violated the constitutional right to enjoy the benefits of scientific advancement and to have health care. They pointed to dozens of other countries that had legally provided treatments using cannabis and its derivatives, such as Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Gadjah Mada University professor of pharmacology and clinical pharmacy Zullies Ikawati said these derivatives had been used by other countries to treat anorexia in HIV patients, nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy and seizures.

She said regulations should be open to scientific developments, which would be better than having patients secretly self-experiment with marijuana.

“Cannabis, as a plant, can be categorised as a type-1 narcotic because it is prone to being misused, let’s admit it. But when it is processed into medications, they should be categorised as type-2 narcotics, which can be used for medical purposes,” she told the Post.

The two other mothers fighting for the cause are Santi Warastuti, whose 12-year-old has Japanese Encephalitis, and Nafiah Murhayati, whose 10-year-old daughter has had epilepsy and spastic diplegia – a form of cerebral palsy – since infancy, according to the ICJR.

The girl has suffered from motor impairment and repeated seizures daily, allowing her only to crawl and move her hands. Meanwhile, the 12-year-old has undergone therapies and taken medications paid for by the Health Care and Social Security Agency (BPJS Kesehatan), but a planned new policy would limit the age of those receiving the treatments to five years old.

Accompanying the three mothers in their petition are the ICJR, the Community Legal Aid Institute (LBH Masyarakat) and Rumah Cemara, a community-based organisation helping drug users and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Last month, the UN’ commission on narcotic drugs followed the World Health Organisation’s recommendation from 2019 to remove medical cannabis from the list of the world’s most dangerous, highly addictive drugs.

The move is expected to facilitate scientific research into the drug’s medicinal and therapeutic potential, although non-medical and non-scientific uses remain illegal.

According to the UN, more than 50 countries have adopted medicinal cannabis programmes.

THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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