Newsbrief: Philippine Drug Doc Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization 11/26/04

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http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/364 /philippines.shtml

Like much of Southeast Asia, the Philippines is in the midst of drug war hysteria. The newspapers are filled with drug busts and sympathetic accounts of death squad killings of drug users and sellers -- a recent headline about yet another death squad killing was titled simply, "Die, Druggie." Yet even in the Philippines, voices for drug reform can be heard.

It happened last week in Visayan, when city councilor Noel de Jesus, a physician accredited with the national Dangerous Drugs Board, called in a forum for the decriminalization of the use and possession of marijuana. Criminal penalties should be replaced with administrative sanctions, he said, according to a report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

"If we decriminalize marijuana, we will decongest our judicial system and we will be unburdening our law enforcement authorities," de Jesus said, pointing to the experience of other countries that have decriminalized marijuana use. "This might sound very revolutionary in our setting, but this is to help defuse a problem that has gone out of proportion," he said.

What de Jesus is suggesting is indeed a far cry from official policy in the archipelago. Under current Philippine law, possession of 500 grams (a little more than one pound) of marijuana is punishable by death, while possession of between five and 499 grams merits a life sentence. The law goes easier on small-time offenders: Those who possess less than five grams face only a 12-year prison sentence.

Although Filipino marijuana laws are severe, they do not appear to have chased the weed away. Authorities seized 30 million pounds of pot last year, and the hardy plant is grown throughout the country, especially in the remote mountainous areas of northern Luzon, central Visayas, and Mindanao.

De Jesus added that unlike shabu (methamphetamine), marijuana does not make people violent. Instead, it "keeps them in their place," he said. The doctor also debunked the notion that once people become addicts, they are addicts for life, citing his own experience with cigarettes.

Not everyone liked what they heard. As the Inquirer reported: "Fernando Martinez, the provincial action officer of the Anti-Drug Abuse and Prevention Council, frowned on De Jesus' suggestion."

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Issue #364 , 11/26/04

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