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The Fight for Medical Cannabis in Indonesia

The powerful legal and political concept of Moms for Medical Cannabis Reform is well-known. Such campaigns have managed to change cannabis laws all over the world—from the United States and the U.K. to Israel and now, apparently, Indonesia.

A group of Indonesian mothers have brought a suit against the Constitutional Court in what is being called a “bellwether” case. This could lead to other Asian or Muslim countries becoming at least part of the Medical Reform Column. The crux of the case is the plaintiff’s request to exclude cannabis from the country’s Type 1 narcotics list (which corresponds to the global Schedule I regulation imposed by U.N. mandate). In March, after hearing testimony from nine experts including one Thai expert and after reviewing numerous scientific reports regarding the medical efficacy cannabis, the proceedings ended. The case lasted for two years.

Courts cannot decide in an immediate time frame. Patients would have to then wait until the government issues new regulations.

Indonesia’s laws on cannabis usage are among the strictest in the country. Cannabis offenses can result in the death penalty. Despite this, cannabis reform has been a major focus of the nation’s efforts over the past several years. In 2020, the government declared cannabis a “medical plant” but this was subsequently reversed by the Agriculture Ministry.

Simultaneous Religious and Political Momentum in Indonesia

This case shows that not only is the Constitutional Court reconsidering legalization of medical marijuana use, but also other authoritative national bodies are taking note.

A group of legislators held a hearing last week to hear from advocates for changing cannabis access laws. In turn, Parliament promised to hold discussions with several federal agencies, including Health Ministry. The Health Ministry is Indonesia’s top medical group and has the ability to help create rules for legal medicinal use.

Beyond this effort, the Vice President, Ma’ruf Amin, moved by the particulars of the Constitutional Court case, also recently told the Indonesian Ulema Council—the top domestic Islamic religious and scholarly body—to issue a fatmaA religious command to declare cannabis as halal. The cannabis is now safe for Muslims to consume, much like the Kosher rules for Jews.

The political is personal

Santi Warastuti (43 years old) is the mother of both the case against the doctor and the political interest to change medical use laws. Warastuti has learned that no stone must go unturned in the fight to save her child’s life. While participating in a Car Free Day protest, Andien, an Indonesian popstar, took her photo with her paralyzed daughter (and her 13-year-old son) and held a sign requesting a speedy decision by the court.

Santi Warastuti

 The photo went viral on Twitter.

With two other mothers she filed a legal appeal in 2020. Now, they are working together to change the status of medical marijuana throughout the islands chain. After learning of the effectiveness of medical marijuana from her employer in Macedonia, she filed this appeal.

Her daughter suffers from cerebral palsy. DwiPertiwi (one of the other co-plaintiffs), learned about the devastating effects cannabis had on epilepsy from her son’s trip to Australia during a one month trial. Unfortunately, the tragic outcome was that her son succumbed to epilepsy after he arrived back in Indonesia. He could not continue with his treatment. In December 2020, he was just one month old when the court case was filed.

There is no time to wait

Musri Musman is the head of Sativa Nusantara Foundation’s advisory board. This non-profit organization has been spearheading reforms in cannabis across the island chain. He also asked for the government to accelerate its discussions.

He has suggested that, given the time urgency of the case, the government could adopt a set of guidelines now in use in other countries—starting with Thailand, which is directly north of Indonesia across the Gulf of Thailand on the Indochina Peninsula. Thailand has had significant cannabis reform since last year. They recently implemented wide-ranging changes, including the giving away of a million cannabis plants and the release from prison en masse of cannabis drug offenders.

Good news! No matter when, and from where the decision to change Thailand’s cannabis policies comes, it is not a matter of if anymore, but a question of when.