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Cannabis in the Philippines – Laws, Use, and History

Philippine drugs laws are among the harshest in the world, with death penalties for possessing a relatively small amount of cannabis. However, the country may approve a bill for introducing medicinal cannabis, with even President Rodrigo Duterte acknowledging its benefits for patients. One of medicinal cannabis’s main supporters is the Catholic Church.

    • CBD Products
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    • Recreational cannabis
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    • Medicinal cannabis
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Cannabis laws in the Philippines

Can you possess and use cannabis in the Philippines?

According to the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, it is illegal to use or possess cannabis in the Philippines. The law defines cannabis as a dangerous drug, and imposes a penalty of “life imprisonment to death” and a fine of 500,000 pesos to 10 million pesos (€8,831 to €176,625) for those caught in possession of the following amounts:

  • 10 grams or more of resin (hashish)
  • 500 grams or more of cannabis

If the amount is less than 10 grams of hashish, or between 300 and 500 grams of cannabis, then the sentence is reduced to 20 years’ and one day to life imprisonment. A fine is still given, but this is also reduced to between 400,000 pesos and 500,000 pesos (€7,065 to €8,831).

The law changes once again if the amount of hashish is less than five grams, or the amount of cannabis is less than 300 grams. In this instance, the offender can be given a 12 year and one day to 20-year sentence, and a fine ranging from 300,000 pesos to 400,000 pesos (€5,298 to €7,065).

Cannabis use:

If a person is caught using cannabis (rather than possessing) – for example, if they test positive in a drugs test – they are given a minimum of six months rehabilitation in a government centre.

If caught a second time, they could be sentenced to six years and one day to 12 years in prison. A fine is also given, ranging from 50,000 pesos to 200,000 pesos (€883 to €3,532).

These severe laws are unlikely to change any time soon. President Rodrigo Duterte said in a press conference in 2016: “If you would smoke it like a cigarette, I will not allow it ever. It remains to be a prohibited item and there’s always a threat of being arrested, or if you choose to fight the law enforcement agency, you die.”

Can you sell cannabis in the Philippines?

The sale and supply of cannabis is also illegal, and as with use and possession, penalties are severe for offenders.

If caught importing cannabis, a sentence of life imprisonment to death is given, plus a fine of 500,000 pesos to 10 million pesos (€8,831 to €176,625).

Philippine law also punishes ‘protectors / coddlers’ – people who knowingly shield, protect or harbour drugs-traffickers or sellers. In this instance, the offender is sentenced to 12 years and one day to 20 years in prison, and a fine ranging from 100,000 pesos to 500,000 pesos (€1,765 to €8,831).

If caught, cannabis sellers are liable to receive life imprisonment or the death sentence, and a fine of 500,000 pesos to 10 million pesos. In some circumstances, this is reduced to 12 years and one day to 20 years, and a fine of 100,000 pesos to 500,000 pesos. If the seller is caught selling or distributing within 100 metres of a school, the maximum penalty is imposed. The same applies if the seller is caught employing minors to distribute the cannabis.

Can you grow cannabis in the Philippines?

The law forbids the cultivation of cannabis, and a sentence of life imprisonment to death (and a fine of 500,000 pesos to 10 million pesos) is in place for those caught growing it. Likewise, any land used for growing cannabis will be seized by the state, unless the owner of the land can prove that they had no knowledge of the cannabis being cultivated there.

Cultivation for research or medicinal purposes is permitted, but only if it adheres to the guidelines provided by the ‘Dangerous Drugs Board’.

Is CBD legal in the Philippines?

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency states that the purchase and use of any derivatives from cannabis, including hemp seed oil, is illegal. Since CBD oil is also a derivate of cannabis, it’s safe to assume that CBD products are also illegal.

The PDEA’s Director General Undersecretary, Arturo G. Cacdac, stated: “PDEA and the FDA jointly advise the public that at present, hempseed oil containing products are strictly prohibited in our country. Although the benefits of hemp outweigh the risks, it is not yet legal or authorised by FDA to distribute of offered for sale in the market.”

Can cannabis seeds be sent to the Philippines?

Due to the PDEA’s tough stance on all derivatives of cannabis plants, seeds cannot be purchased, used or sold in the Philippines. As such, it’s illegal to send them via the post.

Medicinal cannabis in the Philippines

President Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ is well-known around the world, with the death penalty in place for relatively minor cannabis-related offences.

However, even the president himself has spoken out in favour of using cannabis for medicinal benefit. In 2016, he stated that he had no problem with medicinal cannabis, then later, he added: “Medical marijuana, yes, because it is really an ingredient in modern medicine now. There are medicines right now being developed or already in the market that (contain) marijuana as a component but used for medical purposes.”

As a result, Senator Risa Hontiveros prepared a bill called the ‘Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act’. This bill suggested that medicinal cannabis should be made available for patients via a prescription from a health official. This bill was approved on its third reading in the House of Representatives (in 2019); but it has yet to become law.

As it stands at present, the law (if passed) will broadly resemble that of Uruguay, with ‘proofs of registration’ given to patients requiring cannabis. ‘Medical Cannabis Compassionate Centres’ will also be established, to support these patients and monitor the usage of the drug.

Interestingly, medicinal cannabis is already technically permitted by law. The Dangerous Drugs Act stipulates that “people with legitimate medical needs are not prevented from being treated with adequate amounts of appropriate medications, which include the use of dangerous drugs.” However, this new law would further protect medicinal cannabis users (for example against workplace discrimination), in addition to the health officials that prescribe them.

Industrial hemp in the Philippines

At present, the cultivation of hemp is forbidden in the Philippines, as the law prohibits all types of the Cannabis Sativa L plant, regardless of the levels of THC. Therefore, growing industrial hemp could result in the same punishments as growing high-THC cannabis.

Good to know

If you are travelling to the Philippines (or currently live there), you may be interested to know the following:

  • The Guardian recently ran a report, highlighting how many people had been killed as a result of President Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’. As of December 2018, this figure was over 5,000. However, the chairman of the Philippine commission on human rights claimed that this could be as high as 27,000.
  • Despite the tough laws, some of the Philippines’ rural communities still use cannabis, much as they have done for hundreds of years.
  • A Dangerous Drugs Board survey in 2015 found that around 1.8 million Filipinos use illegal drugs. How many of those use cannabis, is unknown.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s impact on cannabis

In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte was elected as president of the Philippines. He was previously the mayor of Davao, and had been linked in the past to the notorious Davao Death Squad, which was believed to have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of suspected drug dealers.

Since his rise to power, Duterte has embarked on a ‘war against drugs’ in a bid to stop people selling and using drugs in the country. This has, for the most part, been a violent campaign. Several thousand drug dealers and users have lost their lives, and these killings have been labelled as ‘legitimate’ by the government.

Despite the fact that the country suspended the death penalty back in 2006, Duterte has repeatedly called for its reinstatement. He and the police force have called their campaign plan ‘Double Barrel’ – a reference to using guns to eliminate both drug barons and street-level pushers and users. Although Duterte claimed that the rich drugs financiers were one of his main targets, the people who have suffered most are largely poor.

Unsurprisingly, this brutal ‘war on drugs’ has prompted international outcry. However, the Philippines’ economic performance has strengthened in recent years – perhaps due to Duterte’s harsh approach to eliminating drugs.

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Is there a serious threat to cannabis users?

According to prominent cannabis activist Kimmi del Prado, Duterte’s main target is methamphetamine dealers and users, not those who sell or use cannabis. She described cannabis in the Philippines as an “open secret” with use of the drug still being prevalent in certain parts of the country.

Some of the Philippines’ tribal societies, for example, use cannabis in their rituals and for traditional medicine. Others use it recreationally, as a substitute for tobacco and alcohol. In fact, attitudes towards cannabis are largely positive or ambivalent, with just a few that are prejudiced against its use.

The activist highlights that there is a threat against cannabis users and sellers in the Philippines, but it is less pronounced than other drugs.

The Catholic Church – cannabis’s biggest supporters?

To the astonishment of many, the Catholic Church in the Philippines has spoken out in support of legalising medicinal cannabis, on many occasions.

They claim that their support is based on the fact that cannabis can be used to help many people; their reasoning is focused solely on the health benefits that the plant offers. At the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in 2014, Archbishop Socrates Villegas commented: “Catholic health care ethics, in fact, considers as morally justifiable the use of marijuana for terminal cancer patients in severe pain.”

In early 2019, following the third reading and approval of the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, Bishop Oscar Jaime Florencio of the country’s military diocese said to CBCP News that if medicinal cannabis aided patients, “then let us, by all means, use it.”

Not everyone is in agreement with the Catholic Church, though. Some politicians have spoken out against the legalisation of medicinal cannabis, with some calling it a “national disaster”. Senator Vicente Sotto claimed that the whole notion was ‘misleading’, and used a metaphor to illustrate his point: “You don’t declare a nuclear bomb legal just because a small component of the bomb can be used to light up your house.”

Will it be legalised in the future?

It seems likely that cannabis will be approved for medicinal purposes in the near future. However, while President Duterte is still in charge, the nation’s strict laws against cannabis usage and sale are likely to continue.

The Philippines have some of the most brutal cannabis laws in the world, yet the Catholic Church supports medicinal cannabis usage.

Stoners From Duterte’s Philippines Share How They Get Away With It

This article originally appeared on VICE Asia

The first time I saw a weed pen was in Netflix’s Master of None circa 2017. Dev Shah, played by Aziz Ansari, took something that looked like a ballpen out of his breast pocket. He put one end to his mouth, and breathed out vapour that quickly dissipated on screen. Genius.

Strangers Offered Me Drugs in Manila, and I Ended Up in a Cramped Jail For a Week

Nothing else comes close to the weed pen when it comes to discretion and convenience. Bong rips are open invitations to anyone familiar with the sound. One-hitters and joints emit smoke, which stick to your clothes. Gummies and weed edibles can’t easily be purchased in many parts of Asia, and making one yourself is tedious unless you love baking. Or so I’m told.

Two years after Master of None, the weed pen is all the rage for weed smokers who can afford a little over a hundred dollars to keep their smoking habits discreet.

Discreteness is especially important in the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte is hell-bent on wiping out drugs – so much so that thousands have died in his brutal war on drugs. Here, weed is the second most sought-out drug after methamphetamine, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. The agency even went so far as to banning a hip-hop song in major airwaves for alluding to the use of marijuana in its lyrics.

We ask five weed smokers in the Philippines about their weed habits and how exactly they get away with it.

Jam*, 20

VICE: So Jam, how much weed do you smoke a day?
Less than a gram for sure. One can last me 4 or 5 days. I usually only smoke at night once I’m done with all my work and use it as a way to relax and chill. To me it’s like having a drink at the end of the day.

And how long have you been smoking?
4 to 5 years.

So, what’s your way of smoking?
My favorite way is using a bong because for smoking a little at a time you go a long way. My other preferred smoking method is vaping cartridges with concentrate inside.

Is it easier to get away with the cartridge?
In public no one will notice the cart, the only other people who will notice it probably smoke too so I rarely am worried. The bong is harder to hide but I usually only stay home when using it.

Aren’t you afraid you’ll get caught?
You don’t have to worry if you’re responsible with it.

Kim*, 26

VICE: Hey Kim, what’s your weed smoking habit like?

I smoke 2 -3 joints a day. I roll my joints at night so I can just smoke them the next day. On a regular work day, I’ll light up 1 joint then smoke half of it while on the way to work. Then smoke the remaining half before having lunch so the meal is better. After work, I always smoke a joint while on the way home. Then another joint or pipe load before going to sleep.

How long have you been smoking weed?
5 or 6 years? Though I smoked regularly only when I started earning my own money, that was 2 or 3 years ago, I think.

So, how do you get away with it?
I just try to be low-key all the time. Only my closest friends know that I smoke. Why do you smoke so frequently? Weed has been a part of my creative process. And it makes me calm after a long day at work.

But aren’t you afraid you’ll get caught?
Who isn’t?

Bong*, 31

VICE: So Bong, how much weed do you smoke?
I smoke cannabis 3 to 6 times a day. Or more when it’s a stressful time at work. What’s your smoking habit like? I grind it up, pack a bowl, sit down or chill by a wall or in my car. I take a deep breath before lighting up. After smoking I give myself 5 to 10 minutes to breathe and relax. Sometimes, I’ll use a bong at home, a pipe or a “Chillam,” a traditional Indian-origin straight pipe.

You smoke outside of your house?
How do you get away with it? Breath mints, sunglasses and a big smile. It’s about being as inconspicuous as possible and situationally aware… And not being a dumbass. There’s a local slang called “T.H.” meaning Tamang Hinala (Right Assumption).

How long have you been smoking?
Since 2003 recreationally but medicinally in 2014. Damn that’s a long time. Aren’t you afraid you’ll get caught?
No, I believe in cannabis being a free and alternative medicine for many Filipinos. If I get caught, I won’t change my belief. I’ll fight for it until medical cannabis is free for all Filipinos.

Why do you smoke so frequently?
I struggle with ADD and PTSD. I was prescribed Xanax and Lexapro to control chemical imbalances in my body. I didn’t like how the medicines made me feel numb and emotionless. I felt detached from the world and constantly depressed. Cannabis helped me control and understand my reactions, emotions and paranoia. Now I feel like a brighter, more attentive, appreciative, and compassionate member of my community.

Do you encourage everyone to follow your habits if or when weed gets legalised here?Yes. Cannabis has been in Filipino culture ever since we could remember. Our ancestors, whether Spanish, Filipino, Malay or Chinese, found cannabis to be an effective natural and alternative medicine. If we make cannabis legal in the Philippines it will create a boom in a variety of Filipino industries. Hemp has also been found to be a great material with industrial applications in insulation, textiles and other sectors.

Edd*, 22

VICE: So Edd, how long have you been smoking weed?
Probably 3 years by now. I keep it strict by only smoking after work. If I got locs (mid-grade weed), I could smoke 2 joints a day and I would be good for the night, but with kush I try to ration as much as possible. Maybe a toke or two each day.

Aren’t you afraid you’ll get caught?
I am, but at the same time I’m pretty confident I could just throw or eat my stash on hand when I see a checkpoint or something. I usually get from medium to low level suppliers, I don’t really feel at ease when I meet or buy from serious dealers. You know, the ones with a dispensary worth of weed in their place.

What’s the closest you’ve been to getting caught?
I went to a college bar once and the bouncer found one a pipe and a small Ziploc bag with some shit bud in one of my pockets. He set me aside and taunted me three times before I realized that he wasn’t serious about calling the cops on me. All he wanted was a bribe. So I gave him what I had on me: $14 in Philippine pesos.

Do you encourage everyone to follow your habits if or when weed gets legalised here?
Weed is good and all but you still have to treat it like alcohol. It alters your mind in some way. Moderation and rationing helps you save up and be at focus. Micro-dosing really helps.

Jason*, 21

VICE: So Jason, why do you smoke weed?
I’ve been smoking for 5 years now. I think I’m high-functional [when I smoke]. That is to say weed helps me be productive. I start my days stressed out thinking about all the work that has to be done. Smoking sativa strains helps me calm down and focus on doing things one by one. Heck, I’m writing these answers down now in the morning while high. In the night when I get home from work I smoke indica strains to knock me out. If I didn’t, I’d stay up thinking about things that have to be done.

How much weed do you smoke a day?
A pipe load in the morning when I wake up. Three loads of kush when I get home from work. Ever since Rodrigo Duterte became president, kush became more and more accessible.

Why do you smoke so frequently?
Reality’s fucked up. Look at everything that’s happening. Couple that with an unhinged personal life with a lot at risk and a very slim chance of making it out to a good life and I think any person would resort to chronic pot smoking.

How do you get away with it?
Hiding your high is essentially just acting normal. I find that if you know how you are sober and if you’re aware of that while you’re high you’ll know how to act in certain situations and you’ll be fine.

Aren’t you afraid you’ll get caught?
Definitely, but also no. I’m afraid because there are such grave punishments for smoking it here in our country. But if the circumstances did happen and I did get caught, I won’t back away from saying that I think weed is beneficial.

Do you encourage everyone to follow your habits if or when weed gets legalised here?
Yeah. I don’t smoke a shit ton of weed. I think it’s like alcohol if not better. Just do it in moderation. It takes the tension off but take that as a helping hand in your path to making reality better for you. Reality sucks but we’re still in it. Don’t just smoke weed to constantly blur out the real world.

*Names have been changed to protect the subjects’ identities.

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Under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine government has waged a bloody war on drugs making it a highly dangerous place for drug users.