The fight for medical cannabis in Indonesia
Whether it is by pending court challenge, legislative change, or religious ruling, the impetus behind medical cannabis reform is cresting in Indonesia—and the campaign is being spearheaded by mothers.
Moms for medical cannabis reform is a powerful political and legal concept. 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.
In what many, both domestically and globally, are calling a potential bellwether case that could flip other Asian and Muslim countries into at least the medical reform column, a group of mothers in Indonesia have filed a lawsuit that is now pending a Constitutional Court decision. 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). The proceedings in the two-year long case ended in March after judges heard the testimony of nine experts (including one from Thailand) and after reviewing a wide variety of scientific reports on the medical efficacy of cannabis.
There is no time frame for the court to reach their decision. Beyond this, patients would then have to wait for the government to issue new regulations.
The laws against cannabis use in Indonesia are some of the toughest in the world. The death penalty is not unheard of for cannabis offenses. That said, the country has been wrestling with cannabis reform for the last several years. In 2020, the government declared cannabis a “medical plant” but this was subsequently reversed by the Agriculture Ministry.
Simultaneous political and religious momentum in Indonesia
The most encouraging thing about this case is that the Constitutional Court is not the only national or authoritative body now reconsidering the legality of medical cannabis use.
Last week, a group of lawmakers held a hearing where they listened to advocates about changing the laws around cannabis access. This in turn led to a Parliamentary promise to set up discussions with multiple federal agencies, including the Health Ministry, the top professional group for Indonesian doctors and other experts to understand how to create regulations around lawful medical use and remove the plant from the Narcotics Act via legislative process.
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 fatma (a religious decree) to make cannabis halal. This means it is safe for Muslims to consume (much like Kosher sets similar guidelines for Jews).
The personal is the political
Santi Warastuti is the 43-year-old mom behind both the case and the new political interest in changing medical use laws. Warastuti has learned that no stone must go unturned in the fight to save her child’s life. She recently had her picture taken (along with her now paralyzed 13-year-old daughter) by an Indonesian pop star, Andien Aisyah during a Car Free Day demonstration, holding a sign demanding a quick decision from the court.
The photo went viral on Twitter.
Her legal appeal, filed in 2020 with two other mothers, is now on the cusp of changing the status of medical cannabis throughout the island chain. She filed it after learning from a Macedonian employer she worked for in Bali in 2015 of the efficacy of medical cannabis.
Her daughter has cerebral palsy. One of the other co-plaintiffs, Dwi Pertiwi, learned about the dramatic impact of cannabis on epilepsy after sending her son to Australia for a month long trial in 2016. Tragically her son died when he came back to Indonesia and was unable to continue his therapy. The court case was filed about a month before he died, in December 2020.
No time to wait
Musri Musman, head of the advisory body to Sativa Nusantara Foundation, the non-profit group spearheading cannabis reform across the island chain, has also called on the government to speed up its deliberations.
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. Significant cannabis reform has been underway all year in Thailand, which has just implemented wide-ranging changes that have included everything from giving away a million cannabis plants to releasing cannabis drug offenders from jail en mass.
The 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.