Meet the first medical cannabis party in Asia

Jommy Teotico hadn’t expected to spend over six years in prison for violating the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, which regulates drug use in the Philippines, for possession of marijuana. He just wanted to relax.

In 2008 he won the first season of the Philippine edition of Fear Factor. After the competition, the show offered him a routine psychological exam that diagnosed him with ADHD. The doctor explained the symptoms to him and now he could name his constant restlessness. He avoided prescription drugs for fear of side effects and was looking for a better cure.

After consulting with medical professionals, Teotico said, “I’ve tried marijuana. I became calm. I started to sleep at a normal time, which I couldn’t before. My body felt balanced. I had found the yin for my yang. Everything was really cool and I let go of the negativity. “

On October 23, 2014, Teotico was home relaxing when police stormed through his doors. “The next thing I knew I was behind bars.”

He ended his sentence in February this year with one thing in mind, “helping clear up misinformed people.” Now he works as the organizer and occasional spokesman for the newly formed Medical Cannabis Party, the first political party in the Philippines and Asia dedicated to the decriminalization of cannabis use.

“We are an opposition party because we want to oppose the existing state drug policy. Under Duterte we have seen the bloodiest recurrence of a drug war. We believe that the medicinal benefits of cannabis, and even its industrial benefits for the country, will be lost as long as our drug policy is oriented towards prohibition, ”said Henri Enaje, lawyer and national chairman of the party.

He added: “The war on drugs has failed – it has not brought us a just, humane and peaceful society. As advocates of human rights and drug policies, patients in need of cannabis drugs, and some of us even victims of the drug war, we urge an end to the so-called war on drugs. In truth, it has only sacrificed, imprisoned or killed the poor and helpless. It is the same brutal policy that prevents patients from using cannabis as medicine. ”

Support, not punish

The Medical Cannabis or MedCann Party, aptly launched on April 20th, has established sections in major cities in the Philippines such as Metro Manila, Bacolod, Cebu and Baguio. In addition to its election agenda, the party serves as an umbrella organization for dozens of groups in the country advocating the decriminalization of marijuana use. The aim is to be able to nominate a congress candidate for the national surveys in 2022. The electoral commission will publish a first list of eligible parties in July.

Enaje says you have long since met all the feasible requirements to be an accredited party. While he admits that the country’s signature conservatism could work against their favor, “it is time to recapture the narrative and showcase the political power of the community.” He added, “Whatever happens, we are aligned with a legal cannabis agenda. “

FOTO-2021-06-29-23-05-46Photo credit: Michael BeltranSouvenir sellers sell their wares on the street at a fair organized by the Medical Cannabis Party.

The party supports industrial hemp, cannabis in medical practices and the elimination of criminal records from those charged with possession.

Because of this platform, cannabis advocates were not exempt from the climate of impunity and authoritarianism under President Rodrigo Duterte, the architect of the drug war.

In July last year, the government passed the Anti-Terrorism Act, a blanket policy that gives authorities the power to suppress dissent in the name of counter-terrorism. Activists, drug war critics, and supporters of anything that does not fall under what the regime deems acceptable are vulnerable to intimidation and intimidation tactics, as people from MedCann have learned. Your chapter in Baguio had planned a public meeting last month, but local authorities relied on anti-terror law to prevent the event.

In the Philippines, whatever activists they fight for, are lumped together by the state. Government officials consider the left to be terrorists, and because advocates of medicinal cannabis criticize existing policies, they can also be placed in the same category in the eyes of the regime.

High time for a change

Enaje said the Department of Health and the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) are the most ardent opponents of medical marijuana. House Bill 6517, or the Filipino Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, which legalizes the use of marijuana for its medical abilities, remains stalled in the House of Commons of Congress.

In a position paper, the PMA declares its opposition to the draft law, saying that marijuana is “healthy people with no guarantees for the sick” and that there is no “sufficient scientific reason to prove its medicinal properties”. The association also expresses concerns about drug abuse of marijuana in recreational facilities.

Enaje rejects these claims, which he said have been largely refuted by scientists around the world. He believes these institutions have chosen to hold on to traditional values ​​and advocate great pharmaceutical interests while depriving a population of healthier lives.

FOTO-2021-06-29-23-06-03Photo credit: Michael BeltranMembers of the Medical Cannabis Party: Enaje (left), Raquel and Teotico

Raquel (who refused to give her real name) can attest to the benefits of medical marijuana. Her 11 year old son has epilepsy, autism and ADHD. Since her son left pharmacy four years ago, she has seen almost “miraculous” improvements in his behavior.

“It used to be so thin and lying around like a vegetable. He couldn’t walk before. But now he can. He talks, he calls me mom. He knows the names of the people in our family. He becomes an active child. Parents need this, and parents need to be open about it, ”she told The News Lens.

Enaje said, “Times are changing. Many countries are able to regulate medical cannabis. This is the medicine we are talking about. That is our central message in the health discourse. For this reason we hope for a Philippines where no one is imprisoned for cannabis. “

The MedCann Party plays a bigger role than just advocating for marijuana-related issues. Its existence diversifies the opposition landscape in the country. Many times the polarizing policies of the current government have spurred previously split-off groups to take greater action. The party is the first of its kind in the country to endure the toughest conditions to be successful, but Enaje and the others hold on to it. They want a country free from a war on drugs, free from the rule of pharmaceuticals and free from the force of authoritarianism. When you think about it, it sounds like a pretty relaxed place.

READ ON: Three Aspects that will define the Philippines elections in 2022

TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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