Calls for cannabis legalisation are on the rise in Indonesia’s conservative Muslim province of Aceh as local leaders believe the move will boost economic development in the region, where cultivation of the substance is already widespread.
Indonesia, which has one of the strictest drug laws in the world, currently prohibits the possession and use of marijuana. The 2009 Law on Narcotics says marijuana is a Type 1 narcotic, putting it on par with crystal methamphetamine and heroin, which are illegal for consumption including for medical purposes.
Despite the ban, cannabis cultivation remains common in Aceh.
In response, the National Narcotics Agency has established the Grand Design Alternative Development (GDAD) 2016-2025 programme, which aims to decrease the cultivation of cannabis in three regencies in the province by encouraging farmers to shift to other commodities.
This is part of the country’s fight against the use of marijuana, which is used by 63 per cent of Indonesia’s 3.6 million illegal drug users aged 15 to 65, according to the agency.
A professor at Aceh’s Syiah Kuala University, Musri Musman, said that allowing Acehnese people to cultivate the plant would improve the local economy, as it could be used not only for medical purposes but also as material for food, clothing and cosmetics and other goods.
He said global market demand for cannabis oil was also high and that the cannabidiol compound found in Aceh’s cannabis was considered unique by those from other countries.
For cultivation to be permitted, marijuana would have to be categorised as a Type 3 narcotic, meaning it could be used for medical and research purposes.
Musri said his study found that, if managed well, cannabis could create more benefits than losses, arguing that the only harmful compound found in the substance was tetrahydrocannabinol, which could cause euphoria in users.
“I’m certain that if the government legalises cannabis and allow citizens to cultivate the plant, the Acehnese people will be rich and won’t need subsidies from the central government,” Musri said during a recent discussion on cannabis and poverty held by the institute in Aceh.
A 2016 briefing paper by global think tank Transnational Institute found that while Aceh was the main source of the country’s cannabis, the plant was also cultivated illicitly for commercial purposes in Bengkulu, West Sumatra, and Lampung and Mandailing Natal, North Sumatra, where the plantations did not exceed 1ha in area and farmers sometimes moved plots after harvests.
In Aceh, which is also known for its strict enforcement of sharia law, residents make use of cannabis in cooking and herbal remedies, such as for diabetes. Households often grow several cannabis plants in their backyard, although they are not often sold for commercial purposes.
Those growing their cannabis plants for medical purposes have been subject to criminal penalties.
In 2017, Fidelis Arie was sentenced to eight months in prison and fined for one billion rupiah ($74,000) for using cannabis to treat his ailing wife. His wife died a month after he was arrested on February 19, 2017 for having grown 39 marijuana plants at his home in West Kalimantan.
Debates over cannabis legalisation have been ongoing in Indonesia as other countries have begun to warm up to the use of marijuana, including in neighbouring Thailand, which has allowed marijuana to be used for medical and research purposes since 2018.
Dhira Narayana, head of the Nusantara Marijuana Network, which has been campaigning for the legalisation of marijuana in the country, said that the group would push for a judicial review of the narcotics law to allow cannabis for medical and local customary use.
He said there was still a lack of knowledge about marijuana in Indonesia, as its medical benefits were often clouded by its illegal status. Legalisation of cannabis, he said, did not mean that the government should allow its negative, narcotic uses.
“In countries that have legalised marijuana, there is still law enforcement against any misuse of marijuana,” Dhira said.
Rafli, a House of Representatives lawmaker from the Islam-based Prosperous Justice Party, suggested that Indonesia export marijuana during a hearing with Minister of Trade Agus Suparmanto last week, arguing that marijuana was not as dangerous as people had deemed it to be, compared to other substances.
“Marijuana can be used for pharmaceutical purposes or other uses. We shouldn’t be too strict about this. We should be flexible in our way of thinking.
“Marijuana can grow easily in Aceh … We should turn marijuana into a good export commodity,” said the lawmaker from House Commission VI overseeing trade and industry, whose electoral district is in Aceh.
He has been reprimanded by his party for making the statements.
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK