Timor-Leste: Drug policy should distinguish cannabis from dangerous drugs – president

Timor-Leste’s president on Thursday called for new drug policies for Timor-Leste that are more informed and free from the prejudices of the past, separating cannabis from dangerous drugs, and noting the danger of tobacco and betel nut consumption in the country.

“The debate around drug policy in Timor-Leste needs to move forward. It has been ill-informed and relies on prejudices inherited from the past. It is out of step with the situation in many other countries,” said José Ramos-Horta in parliament.

“In reviewing our policies on drugs, we need to differentiate between narcotics and cannabis. Cannabis can no longer be grouped with dangerous drugs such as methamphetamine and heroin,” he maintained.

The head of state used the case of recent police operations that led to the arrest of alleged traffickers and consumers of cannabis in Timor-Leste to criticize the way the police act and the drug policy.

“Reconsidering the way we deal with drugs could lay the foundation for locally produced alternative solutions. Punitive prohibition denies Timor-Leste many benefits: medical marijuana, farmers’ income, taxes, hemp products, and tourism,” he stressed.

Regarding drug policy, Ramos-Horta gave examples of “enlightening policies” such as those of Portugal and the “enlightened policies” of countries such as Thailand and Malaysia regarding the medical use of cannabis.”

“In Europe, Australia and the US, the medical use of cannabis has had a positive effect on crime prevention, health and the economy. Some US states now rely on taxes from medical marijuana to fund their economies,” he noted.

“The legal cannabis industry in the US is expected to soon result in $128.8 billion in tax revenue and an estimated 1.6 million new jobs. The East Asia Forum estimates the market value of medical cannabis in Thailand to be between USD 660 million and USD 2.5 billion by 2024,” he stressed.

The head of state insisted that Timor-Leste “is not a drug-free society”, noting that “alcohol, tobacco and betel nut are in constant use and abuse”.             

“We have to be open and frank and accept that the biggest and possibly most dangerous narcotic currently used in Timor-Leste is betel nut. We must understand its positive and negative effects,” he said.

The head of State also referred to the current medication policies that, he considered, “are having negative effects on the right of people to health care”, stating that the access to certain analgesics “has become more restricted, affecting those who live daily with pain”.