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An Indonesian Court's Ruling Is a Setback for Cannabis in that Country

The Constitutional Court rejects parents' plea to help their children with special needs.

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An attempt by a group of Indonesian mothers to force a legal review of the use of medical marijuana in their country hit a roadblock, and perhaps a dead end, as the country's Constitutional Court rejected the judicial review of Indonesian narcotics law the mothers sought.

Three mothers who have children with cerebral palsy received backing from civil society organizations in filing the request for the judicial review that would have allowed for arguments about the benefits of medical marijuana. The mothers hoped the legal battle would allow them to use cannabis for the treatment of their children.

Indonesia currently has some of the harshest drug laws of any nation. Penalties for possession or trafficking of large amounts of drugs include life imprisonment and death.

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A glimmer of hope

Even as they rejected the request for a review of cannabis laws, the court did request that Indonesian officials take the step of researching the potential medical benefits of cannabis.

Constitutional Court Judge Suhartoyo (who uses only one name, as do many Indonesians), said that "the court needs to emphasize that the government [should] immediately follow up…The results of which can be used to determine policies, including in this case the possibility of changing the law," according to Reuters.

But the mothers had hoped for more immediate action. One mom, Santi Warastuti, who has a 13-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy, said that research into marijuana "will take a while, whereas we as parents of children with special needs are racing against time."

The mothers argued that denial of a cannabis treatment option violated their rights to obtain health services as well as benefit from the latest advances in science and technology. Yosua Octavian of the Legal Aid Institute, one of the civil society groups involved in the case, said the court's decision merely shifted responsibility away from the court and to the government by asking for more research.

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Cannabis legalization faces hurdles in Asia

Cannabis legalization has not exactly taken off in Asia. China, Japan, and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Cambodia, have strict laws against cannabis.

An exception is ASEAN member Thailand, where the government has given away one million cannabis plants for people to cultivate at home. The move came as part of a law change earlier this year that legalized growing cannabis for personal use at home.

In 2018, Thailand became the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize medical cannabis. Financial newspaper Nikkei Asia reported that while Thailand has blazed a trail for cannabis legalization in "wary Asia," legalization will prove difficult and recreational use is a far-off prospect.

However, cannabis - probably first cultivated in Asia - has a long history of use on the continent. Buddhist monks told Nikkei Asia that before Thailand beefed up narcotics laws in 1979, blue-collar workers regularly consumed cannabis, as did artists and musicians. Murals dating to the late 1800s show monks, nobles, soldiers, and civilians using cannabis as a medical treatment, often smoking it with bamboo bongs.

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