The Ganja King Cometh

By: Reyshimar C. Arguelles

ALREADY notorious for his stance against illegal drugs, President Duterte ripped apart social media after supposedly “revealing” his weed-smoking habit. And where better to make this claim than an awarding ceremony for the ASEAN National Organizing Committee.

The reason why he even inserted that claim in such a formal setting is beyond me. But what’s more interesting than that is the glaring irony of the claim itself. For a President whose main agenda is to cleanse the country of illegal drugs, his recent blather came as a shock to his critics who should by now be accustomed to his inclination towards hyperbole. One thing’s for sure, this would make for great fodder for memes and other comedic content that could last until the end of the election season.

Let’s face it. The President likes to make jokes, almost to the point of being self-deprecating. During his (expected) off-topic banter, he told his audience about how he copes with the strict itinerary of his foreign travels. To stay awake throughout the whole ordeal in his capacity as head of state, he smokes marijuana, or so he told the audience that sat through the entirety of his speech.

Of course, we are not expected to believe his words as gospel truth, although it has become increasingly difficult to draw the line between a good-natured joke and a slice-of-life anecdote. For Presidential mouthpiece Sal Panelo, common sense is necessary in trying to understand what the President himself has to say.

Sure enough, talking about all of this would seem unnecessary, if it weren’t for the fact that the advocacy for medical marijuana has finally gained traction. Previous pronouncements were made, these had little to no effect on the campaign. If it weren’t for the President’s tendency for long-winded speeches, then we wouldn’t have next year’s senatorial candidates answer questions about legalizing medicinal ‘erb.

At least people are beginning to take notice of the medicinal properties of marijuana, which has up to now been a target of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act. This despite the fact that medical marijuana has gained massive acceptance in European countries and, more recently, Canada which has gone on to legalize the recreational use of the drug through the Cannabis Act.

Though there’s no guaranteeing the legalization of recreational usage here in the Philippines, the President’s support for medical marijuana alone speaks volumes of a possible overhauling of the government’s anti-drug policy.

There’s ongoing support among lawmakers, from Senator Grace Poe to Ping Lacson, which can galvanize a stronger movement that will push for a pro-legalization agenda. But the real battle will be waged online. With the President opening up his support for a “controlled” use of marijuana, a stand which he has reiterated time and again in press interviews, people are beginning to discuss the possibility of enacting such a proposal. Sure enough, the issue of legalization will still undergo lengthy debates, with the medical community still divisive. But the most promising development is the fact that the candidates for next year’s midterm elections are being asked about their place in the issue.

Thousands have died and arrested in the government’s war on drugs, and we can count marijuana users and dealers among the casualties and detainees. On that note, the President’s supposed joke was taken in poor taste, mostly because on the surface, it had the intention of mocking people who need medical marijuana the most. There is a silver lining to this, though: as coverage of this joke picks up, the movement for medical marijuana will also pick up steam until serious debates commence.

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