Originally pubilshed in The Jakarta Post
Advocates and researchers join hands to support a petition brought forward by three mothers of children with cerebral palsy to legalize marijuana for healthcare purposes.
While the UN removed marijuana from its most dangerous narcotics list due to its medical properties in 2020, Indonesian authorities are still skeptical of the drug.
Categorized in Schedule I by Law No. 35/2009 on narcotics, marijuana is prohibited from being consumed for the interest of health services by Article 8 (1) of the law. Fidelis Arie Sudewarto’s case was a wake-up call for some activists to campaign for the cause more actively.
“It was shocking that it actually happened, a citizen got convicted for trying to cure another citizen,” said Iftitahsari, a researcher at the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) and one of the attorneys of the plaintiffs. “The Fidelis case was in 2017 and the ICJR has been preparing its judicial review since then.”
After its amendment through the controversial Job Creation Law, the Narcotics Law is returning to the table as part of the National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) for 2021. It is also currently undergoing scrutiny in the Constitutional Court after the three mothers’ judicial review petition
“Keynan suffers from epilepsy and spastic diplegia, which is also a form of cerebral palsy. She was first diagnosed when she was 2 months old. This disease causes motor disturbances and seizures that recur every day,” wrote Nafiah Murhayanti, mother of 10-year-old Masayu Keynan Almeera P, in her plea.
“Keynan still has convulsions from time to time and her mobility is also limited.” Nafiah filed for a judicial review against the Narcotics Law alongside Dwi Pertiwi, mother of Musa IBN Hassan Pedersen, and Santi Warastuti, mother of Pika Sasikirana, 12. Sadly, Musa passed away a month after their petition was submitted.
Represented by the ICJR, the Community Legal Aid Institute (LBH Masyarakat) and the Rumah Cemara advocacy group, the mothers also garnered support from the other members of the Advocacy Coalition for Narcotics for Usage for Medication, which includes the Indonesia Judicial Research Society, Bali Health Foundation, Empowerment and Justice Action, and the Nusantara Marijuana Circle.
The plea for a judicial review of the Narcotics Law was submitted to the Constitutional Court in November 2020, coinciding with National Health Day.
On Dec. 2, 2020, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs removed cannabis and cannabis resin from Group IV of the Single Convention on Narcotics 1961, the most dangerous group of narcotics. The decision acquired approval from the WHO after the substance showed promising results in treating epilepsy symptoms.
Indonesia adopted the convention into the Narcotics Law. However, it has yet to react to the decision due to “the need for further research”.
In a hearing on Aug. 30, Dr. Musri, a professor of natural chemistry at Syiah Kuala University, and David Nutt, director of the neuropsychopharmacology unit in the division of brain sciences at Imperial College London, delivered their expert opinion on how health services can benefit from marijuana.
There are two main components in cannabis: THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, and CBD, or cannabidiol. While CBD is a promising, addiction-free option for pain relief, it is not legally available in Indonesia due to marijuana’s status as a Schedule I narcotic.
“[There is] THC, which has medicinal properties but also has the potential to be abused, and on the other hand, there’s CBD, cannabidiol. Cannabidiol has never been regulated by law because we know it’s not psychoactive,” Nutt said. “[CBD] can’t be abused, but somehow [it was restricted as well]. […] many countries have now removed cannabidiol from Schedule I.”
“Classification [of narcotics] is the right of every country, as long as it is carried out with good intentions for the development of health services and the ability to control substances by ensuring the distribution permit is per its designation,” said Dr. Asmin Fransiska, dean of the School of Law at Atmajaya University, in her expert testimony.
Iftitahsari and her team are optimistic about their case. “Judging from their questions, we feel the judges are [implicitly] saying marijuana can be used for medication and needs to be addressed.”
However, Iftitahsari admitted the court and the government were still reluctant due to the difficulty of regulating its circulation. As the case goes, the government is still adamant that any leeway will allow even more abuse of the substances. Experts like Asmin and Stephen Rolles, a senior policy analyst at Transform Drug Policy Foundation in the United Kingdom, proposed other perspectives on the issue.
Asmin likens the possibility of regulating cannabis to existing alcohol laws, implying that such a system can work. However, she concedes that preliminary research may be required for the system to be effective.
Meanwhile, in his expert testimony on Sept. 14, Rolles said strict control on drugs would not impact the level of abuse but could inadvertently harm patients as it prevented doctors from providing optimal care.
This goes not only for marijuana but also for other types of narcotics in Schedule I. The coalition is now fighting to change Article 8 (1) of the Narcotics Law so that these substances can be used for medicinal purposes in the future. “We have bigger goals,” Iftitahsari said.
“We don’t want to just get one or two types of narcotics [off Schedule I]. The root of the problem is the approach — that the narcotics law is supposedly not [merely] about criminal law. It’s [mainly] a matter of health regulation. […] There must be an approach where narcotics can be utilized for health.”