Fertile Ground

Cash Crop: Is it high time for PH to decriminalize cannabis?

To decriminalize cannabis would be a game-changer for the Philippines’ agricultural sector. It would also set the strongest of tones early into a new administration. Is this something President Bongbong Marcos (PBBM) could take a serious look into? We think so. Let’s discuss.

Thailand makes first move

On June 9, 2022, the Kingdom of Thailand became the first Asian nation to decriminalize cannabis. The Thai are only third in the world to do this nationwide after Canada and Uruguay. As of writing, in the United States, 19 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam allow recreational use. Nearly 40 states approve medicinal use.

The Thai example is a largely political matter, with the Bhumjaithai party campaigning for cannabis legalization dating back to 2019. No less than the Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has pushed the policy. Anutin was responsible for making sure the interministerial body overseeing drug policy missed its deadline to agree on cannabis regulations. In doing so, cannabis became legal by default. By mid-September, parliament has threatened to vote against this new policy already seeing implementation.

When June 9 rolled in, Thailand did not only decriminalize cannabis, but freed about 4,200 prisoners on cannabis-related charges. The Kingdom is also in the process of giving away 1 million cannabis plants for its citizens to grow.

Officially, cannabis is being promoted strictly for medicinal use in Thailand. Sale is banned to those below 20 years of age, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. Growing for personal consumption is permitted, but selling either plants or derivative products is regulated. If you manage to get a license, derivatives like brownies can only contain 0.2% THC. Smoking inside one’s home is legal, but falls under “public nuisance” when done in public. It may fetch a $700 fine or 3 months in jail.

The politics of things

It is precisely the political overtones of the Thai example that hits closer to home. With PBBM taking up the mantle for the country’s flailing agricultural sector, and faced with a global economic downturn, it rests upon his wisdom to recognize the potential of this new industry.

Just like Anutin, Marcos has no shortage of vocal critics. We can expect those same critics to push back on any cannabis policy this administration may pursue. Neophyte senator Robin Padilla has already drawn first blood with his own push for medicinal marijuana. This is a welcome return to the table for some cannabis advocates, as the last significant movement on this was when we wrote about it in 2019 (Isabela Congressman Tonypet Albano’s House Bill No. 6517).

In January of this year, PBBM nodded towards legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, saying “Sang-ayon ako kasi nakikita ko ang studies.” However, he did emphasize that there should be safeguards in place to control its use.

Green Gold: Could cannabis save PH agriculture?

In their move to decriminalize cannabis, Thailand is set to make over half a billion dollars a year in the next two years alone. Could the Philippines also cash in on this new product?

With a similar tropical climate to Thailand and an embattled new generation of farmers, marijuana may just be one of several silver bullets for the Philippine agricultural sector. Faced with multiple problems such as sugar and salt shortages, the Marcos administration starts with its back against the wall. At the rate of current economic conditions, the government will be struggling to feed millions of Filipinos in the coming years.

In search of creative solutions, the PBBM admin could take a serious look into cannabis, and how it could benefit not just the landed class, but small farmers across the archipelago. Thailand’s push has already sent a message that is largely inclusive, saying “we want everyone to benefit from this new policy.” And with millions of our farmers eager for government help, sitting and waiting for the next big news, perhaps a statement indicating the national government is studying a move to decriminalize cannabis could bolster this new admin’s popularity.

Immediate beneficiaries

In the short term, one can already list beneficiaries from renewed cannabis policy in the Philippines. On top of this list would be those taking advantage of medicinal benefits. Now, it’s a wide spectrum as to which applications our health officials and governing bodies may allow cannabis use. But at a baseline, treatments to anxiety and chronic pain may be revolutionized.

Small farmers looking to grow a new crop will also be immediate beneficiaries, as well as peripheral components of the agricultural sector that may be struggling at the moment. If hemp products catch on quickly and is half as promising as proponents say they can be, then that’s another opportunity for growth in a potentially massive export industry.

The research sector will also celebrate new funding, and may fast-track beyond the realm of neurology in no time.

As for allowing recreational use, there are no indications that Philippine officials could pursue it anytime soon.

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