News, Politics

Indonesia Backtracks After Formally Declaring Cannabis a Medicinal Plant

September 18, 2020 01:26 pm ET
Indonesia Backtracks After Formally Declaring Cannabis a Medicinal Plant

Pakistan has legalized hemp cultivation. In Thailand, medical cannabis has been approved for growth and distribution. Malaysia, South Korea, and the Philippines have all taken steps in recent years toward broader legalization as well. All in all, it is clear that Asia as a continent is moving forward on the path toward cannabis legality. However, like the United States, Asia is struggling to overcome a heavy stigma surrounding cannabis, and it seems that for every one step forward an Asian country takes, another takes a step back, making it altogether unclear when we can expect widespread legalization throughout the continent. And then there are the times in which the progress and regression in the journey to cannabis legality happen in the same country. That very situation presented itself in Indonesia earlier this year, as cannabis was first declared a medicinal plant, then quickly revised to remain an illegal substance.

Indonesia’s Initial Declaration

On February 3rd, 2020, a ministerial decree was signed in Jakarta, Indonesia. This decree listed cannabis, along with 65 other plants, as “medicinal.” The plants included in the decree were licensed for production under the supervision of the Agriculture Ministry’s horticulture directorate general. However, this decree is a little misleading. It’s possible to misinterpret it as declaring cannabis to be medicinal for the first time, but in fact, this is not the case. Cannabis has been considered a medicinal substance in Indonesia since 2006, and the purpose of declaring it as such was to help cannabis farmers make the shift into farming other medicinal plants instead. Currently, Indonesia reports that there are no legal cannabis farmers within the country. 

As far as legality, cannabis remains a Schedule I narcotic in Indonesia. Strict penalties are associated with cannabis-related infractions. In 2015, for example, a court in Bali sentenced a man to a year in prison for the crime of sharing a joint with a friend. Given Indonesia’s strict attitude toward cannabis, it is somewhat ironic that the herb was formally recognized to have medicinal properties. But the Indonesian government quickly became aware of their misstep and took strides toward altering it.

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The Decree Will Be Revised 

The proclamation went viral via an Instagram post from the Nusantara Marijuana Network, an organization that fights for cannabis legalization and advocacy in Indonesia. The status of cannabis as a medicinal plant, while in place since 2006, had not been public knowledge up until this post went viral. The Instagram post highlighted the fact that cannabis was classified as a medicinal substance in Indonesia, while simultaneously reminding followers that the country’s narcotics law was still in effect and that cannabis was still considered an illegal substance.

But citizens of Indonesia could now see for themselves the fact that their country had reclassified cannabis. Although this had been done in an attempt to encourage cannabis farmers to cultivate other medicinal plants, cannabis advocates were understandably encouraged. But the government felt differently. “The decree will be revised soon,” said the Agricultural Ministry’s vegetable and medicinal plant director, Tommy Nugraha. “Marijuana’s inclusion on the medicinal plant list means that it can only be used for research.”

So, for now, at least, cannabis remains illegal in Indonesia, classified as a dangerous substance, and with its label as a medicinal plant about to be stripped away. But there are optimistic signs, given the fact that the Indonesian government clearly recognizes the need for research into cannabis and its properties. And research is often the first step on a road that leads to broader legalization, both for medicinal and recreational purposes. Someday, Indonesia may see legalized cannabis.

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