MANILA—Touting the benefits of cannabis and hoping to nip the stigma associated with it, Filipinos supporting the legalization of marijuana in the country marked "4/20" with a march between two freedom landmarks Saturday morning.
Manila police estimated about 200 people joined the march from Rizal Park to the Mendiola Peace Arch, where the participants held a program and performances.
The marchers carried posters made of recycled materials with slogans such as "humanize, decriminalize cannabis use", "All use is medical", "No jail for a plant", and "Cannabis saves lives". Some participants wore masks to prevent being identified.
Representatives of the group said this is their biggest march so far and the first in the country timed to the 4/20, or the recognized worldwide holiday for hemp on April 20.
"Baka panahon na para dalhin ito sa kalye. 'Yung makikita para humarap tayo rito, para matapos na 'yung takot ng tao dahil naiintindihan niya ang katotohanan tungkol sa cannabis," said JJ Villanueva of the Philippine March for Cannabis and the Hibla Hemp Movement.
"Bakit sa ibang bansa, legal, bakit dito hindi? Ang bottom line lang sana rito yung tayo'y makapagtanim at magamit at mapagyaman yung cannabis nang walang takot sa dibdib. At hangga't hindi po nangyayari iyon, hindi tayo titigil."
Recreational marijuana use, already legal in parts of the United States and in Canada and Uruguay, is prohibited in the Philippines. Marijuana use for medicinal purposes has generated wider approval, with Thailand being the latest Asian country to approve it.
Here, a medical marijuana bill has already passed the House of Representatives in January.
But in March, President Rodrigo Duterte backtracked on his earlier stated openness to the proposed measure, saying it could be used as an excuse for others to cultivate it for purposes other than medicinal.
The march participants said they are doing their part to increase acceptance for marijuana.
For instance, the hemp plant has industrial uses such as for fuel, textiles, and even plastic, they said.
"Tayo rin ang magde-decide, kasi kung ang tingin ng community sa marijuana ay masama pa rin, ito ay kemikal na masama sa katawan, kung hindi natin mabi-break yung stereotype, yung stigma, hindi natin maiaangat sa level na makukumbinse natin yung mga lawmakers natin na amyendahan ang batas para pahintulutan," said Kimmi Del Prado, a drug policy reform advocate who also helped push for the medical marijuana bill.
Instead of putting marijuana users in jail, they are calling for regulation of the drug akin to cigarette and alcohol, which they said is more harmful to people.
"Yung yosi inaabuso mo, papatayin ka lang. Yung alak inaabuso mo, papatayin ka lang. So bakit hindi pwede yung cannabis?" Villanueva said.