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Duterte Using Marijuana Is No Joke

Philippines Should Decriminalize Medical Use of Cannabis

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during the change of command ceremony of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines April 18, 2018. © 2018 Reuters

President Rodrigo Duterte said this week that he uses marijuana to stay awake, especially during foreign travel. Will anti-drug agents dare to raid Malacañang, the presidential palace, now that its occupant has admitted to using drugs?

In a speech to government officials, Duterte complained about his schedule during the recent ASEAN Summit in Singapore, where he was caught taking power naps.

“It’s a killing activity and I think the – my age, I’m not affected that much because I use marijuana to stay awake,” Duterte said. A few hours later, after reporters asked him to clarify his remark, he backtracked, and claimed he was only joking, though he certainly didn’t appear to be joking when he made the statement.

But Duterte’s supposed joke is not funny: since his “war on drugs” began in June 2016, the police and unidentified assailants have summarily killed more than 12,000 people, mostly under-employed young men. Police put the figure at 5,000 deaths in what they claim were  legitimate anti-drug operations. And while most victims of Duterte’s “drug war” allegedly used shabu (a methamphetamine), many used or sold marijuana.

Marijuana is illegal in the Philippines, and Duterte’s admission of using it – whether in jest or not – undermines the rationale for his “drug war” and exposes its murderous hypocrisy. It adds cruel insult to injury for the victims and their families.

If Duterte wasn’t joking, then perhaps he will support the global trend to legalize cannabis use to help alleviate medical conditions. Human Rights Watch believes that personal drug use, being a matter of individual choice protected by international law, should be decriminalized.

Perhaps this episode will push Duterte to realize his hypocrisy and order the police to stop arresting and killing people who, like himself, personally benefit from cannabis. Otherwise, why shouldn’t the anti-drug agents knock on the door of Malacañang?

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