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Philippines Divided: Should Cannabis Be Decriminalized

Advocates argue that the regulation of cannabis is more effective than its outright prohibition. Despite this, certain government officials are concerned that decriminalization of marijuana could lead to misuse.

Advocates are calling on the government to rethink its cannabis classification, arguing that current laws disproportionately harm lower-class individuals and those with certain medical conditions who use cannabis.

Jommy Teotico, a former model and winner of the Philippine franchise of the reality show Fear Factor, is one of the advocates speaking up for cannabis.

Back in October 2014, Teotico was arrested by authorities for smoking marijuana while he was at his partner's residence in San Pedro City, Laguna. Police seized approximately 225.75 grams of weed and a glass tube utilized for smoking, more commonly referred to as a "tooter".

Teotico has since been cleared of charges for violating Sections 11, 12, 15, and 16 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. The San Pedro City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 93 dropped all charges against him, citing a lack of evidence. This decision, known as the demurrer to evidence, was granted in late January 2021.

During the court proceedings, several inconsistencies were uncovered regarding the police's statements and their handling of evidence. The chemistry report played a significant role in proving that there was no presence of marijuana in the glass pipe. Furthermore, the police were unable to provide evidence that the Teotico was under the influence of weed at the time of his arrest.

In early February 2021, he was finally freed from detention after facing criminal charges for about six years and three months. Despite his time in prison, Teotico remained unwavering in his mission to decriminalize cannabis use and emerged even more determined to push for his cause.

Following his detention, he has been championing his advocacy for the use of marijuana to address mental health concerns, as well as medical conditions such as epilepsy and ADHD, which he himself has been diagnosed with. He has given talks on the topic and launched a clothing line, HEMP, which stands for Help Educate Misinformed People, to raise awareness and educate people on the benefits of cannabis. Currently, he is also preparing to make a comeback in the entertainment industry.

Teotico claims that he spent six years in jail not for using "the plant," but because of an unjust law. He argues that the police tricked him into violating the law and that individuals who use marijuana for recreational or medical purposes shouldn't be arrested.

Teotico stated, "I just wanted to relax, to heal, then I found myself in jail with real criminals the next day. Why was I called a criminal when I was only trying to fix myself?"

A new House Bill, proposed by him, wants to remove certain words like "marijuana" and "cannabis" from the law's definition of dangerous drugs. Specifically, he suggests removing these words from Sections 11 and 16, which deal with possession and cultivation.

Alvarez wrote cannabis, "is not as harmful as it was first thought out to be. Its benefits, as it turns out, far outweigh the supposed harms it poses.” and continued with, "Change, therefore, is needed to remedy the misclassification of marijuana as a dangerous drug."

Legalizing marijuana use goes beyond just its medical benefits. According to Alvarez, it could also bring a massive economic opportunity for new businesses and jobs, while generating additional revenue for the country to fund social programs.

Several alleged grievances because of the implementation of RA 9165 and other drug policies have prompted advocacy groups such as the Medical Cannabis Party (MedCann) and Philippine Cannabis Legal Resource Center to advocate for removing cannabis entirely from the list of dangerous drugs in the country.

Despite increasing pressure to decriminalize cannabis and amend certain provisions in RA 9165, government agencies continue to defend the current law. Caloocan, located in Metro Manila, is one of the cities enforcing the 2018 guidelines of the Supreme Court regarding plea bargaining agreements for individuals charged with drug-related crimes.

The Caloocan Anti-Drug Abuse Office (CADAO) enrolled 343 individuals in plea bargaining agreements. Out of this figure, 244 or 71.14% are accused of violating Section 11 which entails possession of harmful drugs, while 46 or 13.41% were charged with violations under Section 13 for possessing drugs during social gatherings or "pot sessions."

Out of the 343 individuals who participated in plea bargaining, only 82 were found to have used marijuana, which accounts for 23.91% of the total. Shockingly, a majority of 254 individuals, or 74.05%, tested positive for the use of shabu or methamphetamine hydrochloride. The remaining five were found to have used sedatives and inhalants or solvents.

Jommy Teotico's story is a powerful reminder of the need to reassess the current laws on cannabis use. There is an urgent need for reform, as evidenced by numerous inconsistencies in police statements and evidence handling that resulted in his wrongful arrest and imprisonment. We must acknowledge the potential benefits of decriminalizing marijuana - from its medical uses to economic opportunities - and take steps towards creating a system that allows individuals like Teotico to access it without fear of retribution or criminalization.

Furthermore, we should focus more resources on tackling other illicit substances such as shabu which are far more prevalent than marijuana according to recent plea bargaining agreements in Caloocan City. It's time to rethink the approach towards cannabis, consider how best to regulate it responsibly and pave the way forward for a better future where everyone can benefit from this plant’s therapeutic properties safely and legally.


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