Harsh Punishments are Standard for Marijuana Crimes in the Philippines

the flag of the philippines in front of a blue sky

If you think the contradiction between federal and state marijuana laws in the United States is unjustified, the laws and marijuana history in the Philippines may really surprise you. As the country is considering legalizing medical marijuana, it also imposes the death penalty or life imprisonment for marijuana crimes.

Recent Marijuana History in the Philippines Shows the Harshest Punishment

Not only is recreational marijuana illegal in the Philippines, thousands of people have been murdered by authorities after President Rodrigo Duterte announced he was declaring war on drug dealers and users during his presidential campaign.

During a speech before he was elected in 2016, Duterte declared that he would kill all drug users and dealers. "If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, holdup men, and do-nothings, you better get out because I’ll kill you."

Duterte indeed killed 1,700 people while he was the mayor of Davao and once said that he would kill all drug addicts. "There’s 3 million drug addicts … I’d be happy to slaughter them," Duterte once claimed while proudly comparing himself to Hitler.

It would appear that Duterte is a man of his word because human rights groups have estimated that Duterte's police force has murdered up to 27,000 people since Duterte came to power. Merely being suspected of pushing or using drugs can get you killed, and the president has encouraged the police as well as citizens to kill users and dealers. The official total was 5,050 at the end of 2018, a gross under-estimate according to human rights groups.

After a 17-year-old girl and 21-year-old boy were murdered, a witness exclaimed, "They are slaughtering us like animals." The girl's body was found next to her Barbie doll and the witness would not give their name for fear of retaliation.

Government Strategy

beach in the philippines

Human rights groups have condemned Duterte's war on drugs, and a panel of thirty-eight countries from the United Nations Human Rights Council has called out the Philippine government's strategy for combating drugs and ordered an investigation.

"We urge the government of the Philippines to take all necessary measures to bring killings associated with the campaign against illegal drugs to an end and cooperate with the international community to investigate all related deaths and hold perpetrators accountable."

The UN panel conceded that marijuana history in the Philippines is currently in a bad drug epidemic but demands that the country comply with international human rights obligations while combating drug crimes.

Rafendi Djamin is the Director of Amnesty International for South East Asia and the Pacific and says that the executions by police and vigilante groups of suspected drug dealers and users are unjustified must end.

"Extrajudicial executions will deliver neither the justice that victims deserve nor the security that people in the Philippines seek. What the Philippines needs is an overhaul of its judicial system to end delays, enhance investigations, ensure that criminal suspects are prosecuted in fair trials, and protect victims and witnesses from threats and reprisals," he concluded.

Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972

jar of marijuana

Looking into marijuana history in the Philippines shows that cultivating or using marijuana was made illegal in the Philippines with the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972. Marijuana was classified as a dangerous drug under the law and outlawed the sale, manufacture, cultivation, possession, import, and use of the drug. Drug paraphernalia was also made illegal under the law.

Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002

doctor holding marijuana leaves and oil

Congress amended the law in June of 2002. The amended law allowed the government the ability to pursue an intensive and unrelenting campaign against the trafficking and use of dangerous drugs and other similar substances. The Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 was passed by the House and signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The new law replaced the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972 and also created a drug enforcement agency. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) is controlled by the president and has the authority to enforce drug laws. The use or possession of marijuana is illegal, and penalties include life in prison and a P10 million fine under the law.

Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2017

Colorado Medical Marijuana Bottles

In a strange turn of events for marijuana history in the Philippines, a medical marijuana bill was passed in 2017 by the House. Isabela Representative Rodolfo Albano III sponsored the bill and expects the bill to become law. "House Bill 6517 adopts a very strict regulatory framework while at the same time promoting the people’s right to health by ensuring affordable and safe access to quality medical cannabis," said Albano.

Despite his murderous drug war, President Duterte has said that he would sign the medical marijuana bill. The president's spokesman Salvador Panelo says that President Duterte supports medical marijuana and will sign any appropriate legislation. "He is in favor of limited use of marijuana," said Panelo. "Logically then he will support and sign any bill that would be consistent with his stand."

Senator Joseph Victor "JV" Ejercito is the Senate health panel chairman and says that amending the current law may be more expedient. "We need to weigh in on the need to pass a new law on this, but I am considering amendments to the current laws, and rules and regulations, to make it accessible to those who are really suffering," said Ejercito.

Ejercito went on to say that he wanted to lower the cost of medical marijuana so that poor people may also benefit, adding that medical consumers should have access to medical marijuana while the lawmakers consider legislation. "Probably we can ask FDA, DDB to provide these beneficiaries of medical marijuana, who are extremely suffering, to give them sufficient access while we are deliberating on the bill."

In the meantime, Duterte will most likely continue his war on drugs. The Philippine president has been unapologetic regarding his strategy to combat drugs in his country. In response to the United Nations Human Rights Council's critique of his murderous strategy, he replied, "F-ck you U.N."

Judging from his rhetoric, the police death squads' free-rain over suspected drug traffickers and users will not end anytime soon. Even with three police officers convicted of murdering a 17-year-old student wrongly identified as a drug trafficker, police may still feel emboldened by the president's statements.

The president also challenges the ability of an international community to prosecute him. Duterte is being investigated by the International Criminal Court at the Hague for crimes against humanity, but that has not watered-down his rhetoric.

While warning upper-level drug traffickers that they would be targeted, Duterte said that he would not stop hunting them until he was out of office.

"I will not forgive you. I will slit your throat in front of human rights. I don’t care. I'm just warming up for the remaining three years. The big fish will take a hit, and if you ask me if they will die, they will die."

Alrighty, then. If you are planning a visit to the Philippines, please leave your friend Mary Jane at home.


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Niko Mann
Niko Mann is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, California. Just the facts, Jack.