Recent comments from the Philippines’ violent and highly controversial president, Rodrigo Duterte, has reinvigorated questions about the country’s cannabis laws. After making unexpected comments about weed earlier this week, the leader is apparently voicing support for medical marijuana.
Duterte’s Controversial Comments About Cannabis
The whole thing started earlier this week when Duterte made a spontaneous comment about using marijuana. In a speech to government officials, Duterte spoke about the challenges of his busy schedule.
At one point, he said: “It’s a killing activity . . . I’m not affected that much because I use marijuana to stay awake.”
The comment immediately drew attention and criticism—especially because Duterte has waged a long and bloody war on drugs. In fact, a recent report estimates that Duterte’s war on drugs may be responsible for as many as 27,000 deaths in the Philippines.
Duterte and his spokespeople quickly called his unexpected marijuana comment a joke. “Everybody is entitled to a joke,” Duterte’s spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters this week. “First, marijuana is not a stimulant to make you awake. It’s the opposite, so obviously there was no logic there, so he was joking.”
But critics aren’t seeing any humor in the president’s words, especially when placed in the context of Duterte’s deadly war on drugs.
“But Duterte’s supposed joke is not funny,” Brad Adams wrote for Human Rights Watch. “Marijuana is illegal in the Philippines, and Duterte’s admission of using it—whether in jest or not—undermines the rationale for his ‘drug war’ and exposes its murderous hypocrisy. It adds cruel insult to injury for the victims and their families.”
Does Duterte Support Medical Marijuana?
In the aftermath of Duterte’s so-called joke, increased attention has been placed on the issue of cannabis laws in the Philippines.
Despite his infamous crackdown on illegal drugs—including marijuana—there have been times in the past when Duterte has voiced support for medical cannabis.
Back in 2016, he said: “Medicinal marijuana—yes, because it is really an ingredient of medicine now. There are medicines right now being developed or already in the market that contain marijuana as a component.”
Now, after this week’s comments, it appears the president is taking a similar position. At least that’s what his spokesperson said the day after Duterte’s ill-conceived “joke.”
“Well, the President already made a statement on that prior,” Panelo said. “He said for purposes of medicine to heal, he’s in favor. But not for use other than that.”
Panelo went on to cite other places in the world where weed has been legalized. In particular, he mentioned Canada and states in the U.S. that have established a legal framework for medical cannabis.
Interestingly, Panelo said that Duterte might be open to the idea of a similar framework for legalizing medical marijuana in the Philippines.
Despite all these comments, Duterte has not taken steps to change the country’s cannabis laws. In fact, much the opposite. His deadly war on drugs has drawn global criticism. And he’s quickly gained a reputation for being a harsh, violent, and authoritarian leader.