Indonesia: Behind the revocation of ministerial decree on marijuana as medicinal plant

Whether or not to use cannabis as medication remains a controversial topic worldwide

JAKARTA, INDONESIA — The decision of Indonesia’s Ministry of Agriculture (Kementan) to revoke a ministerial decree that includes marijuana as a medicinal plant has sparked mixed reactions.

Some hailed the ministry’s commitment to fighting drug abuse, while others questioned the decision.

The inclusion of marijuana (cannabis sativa) as a medicinal plant commodity under Kementan’s supervision was stipulated in the 2006 ministerial decree during Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s presidency.

“Why is everyone complaining now as the decree has existed since 2006? Why did we issue the Ministerial Decree no.104 on supervised commodities? Because the ministry accommodates new emerging export commodities such as swallow nest,” the ministry’s Head of Public Relations and Public Information Kuntoro Boga Andri said in a statement on 30 August.

Social media platforms have made the revoked decree viral, as Dhira Narayana from the Nusantara Marijuana Network (LGN) opined.

“We appreciated the ministry’s decision to revoke the decree, even though we regretted it,” Mr Dhira told TOC on 1 September.

The Law on Narcotics halts marijuana’s use as medicine

Mr Dhira noted that the Law no.35/2009 on Narcotics had banned the use of marijuana as medicine. The law’s Article 8 Paragraph 1 stated that marijuana as narcotics type 1 has been prohibited for the use of healthcare service.

However, the Paragraph II stipulates that on the limited amount, narcotics type I are allowed for the use of science and technology and diagnostics reagents and laboratory reagents after obtaining Minister’s approval upon the recommendation of the Head of Food and Drugs Monitoring Agency (BPOM).

“This article 8 should be revised so it can be more detail. For example, the minister here refers to the Health Minister. Has the Health Ministry researched the benefit of cannabis?” Mr Dhira told TOC in a phone interview.

The activist added that the narcotics law closed the opportunity for research aimed at discovering and optimising the medical benefits of marijuana.

“Many people plant cannabis and use it for relieving pain, but they get arrested as though they are addicts. If people are afraid of misusing marijuana, all [drugs] are prone to abuse and misuse as well,” Dhira stated.

Does marijuana cure?

Some people have been subject to arrests for planting and using cannabis for medical purposes.

Reyndhart Rossy N Siahaan from the city of Medan in North Sumatera, was arrested in 2019 for marijuana possession.

Ironically, Mr Reyndhart, a resident of East Nusa Tenggara, used marijuana to treat his nerve disorder.

In 2013, Inang Winarso from the Nusantara Sativa Foundation cooperated with several chemists to research marijuana as an ingredient for a diabetes drug. They submitted a proposal in that year and got an approval two years later, Tirto reported.

Cannabinoids — active components in marijuana — have been researched on its use for curing cancer and tumour.

Many studies show cannabinoids have the potential to be an anti-cancer agent. However, marijuana’s function in treating cancer has yet to be clearly explained. Therefore, cannabis has yet to be a standard medication for that disease.

Despite its allegedly powerful component, the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has yet to approve the medical use of marijuana at the federal level, given that there are few thorough studies on whether marijuana’s benefits outweighs its risks.

Marinol (dronabinol) is one of the drugs containing marijuana’s active substance—a synthetic version of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol)—to treat AIDS and appetite-loss due to chemotherapy, Goodrx wrote.

Many countries support Indonesia’s rejection to legalize marijuana

Public Relations Officer of the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) Brigadier General Sulistyo Pudjo told TOC that the BNN had met with the ministry and appreciated the ministry’s effort to revoke the decree.

“Next, Ministry of Agriculture will have more discussion with us regarding the use of marijuana,” the high-ranked police officer stated.

When asked about some people use marijuana for medication, Mr Sulistyo argued that marijuana still has more risks than benefits.

“If there are other less-risky alternatives, why do they choose cannabis?” he said.

During the 2nd Topical Meeting of WHO ECDD Recommendation on Cannabis and Cannabis related Substance’ on 24 August, Indonesia rejected several recommendations regarding the use of marijuana for medical purposes, supported by numerous countries including the US.

“Why did many countries reject the recommendations? Because if they are applied, the supervision would be difficult,” said BNN Cooperation Director Mr Ahmad Djatmiko.

Narcotics division deputy chief Senior Commissioner Krisno Siregar told TOC that Indonesia does not stick to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation as there are several considerations.

“The world’s health body is not binding given that each country has several considerations whether or not to legalize marijuana,” Mr Krisno said.

Based on research, the type of marijuana planted in Indonesia contains 18 per cent of THC and one per cent of CBD. THC produces a ‘high’ sensation due to its psychoactive nature.


Countries that legalize marijuana and Portugal experience

Several countries have regulated the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

Thailand is the first country in Southeast Asia to legalise marijuana for medication. The policy took effect at the end of 2018.

Marijuana is legal for medical and industrial use in Italy. However, the country’s regulations ban marijuana for recreational purposes.

Not all states in the United States have allowed cannabis for medical uses. Some relax their regulations by allowing the use of marijuana for medication, but others strictly regulate and ban its use.

Interestingly, Portugal’s decision to decriminalise the use of all drugs has successfully lowered the death rates due to overdose. The country offers a rehabilitation program for drug addicts.

However, all drugs are illegal in Portugal. The difference is that the criminal offence for drug possession is replaced by the civil one, Drug Foundation reported.

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