Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, has said that cannabis increases the risk of lung cancer.
Duterte is a long-time politician and was mayor of a southern Philippine city for close to two decades. He made a name for himself for turning his city, Davao, virtually crime- and drug-free. Filipinos credit Duterte’s tough stance on crime and drugs as the reason why Davao – which used to be a killing field – into a peaceful city. His supporters have, time and again, called Davao as the safest city in the world.
In numerous occasions, Duterte has said that cannabis smoke has significantly more tar than high-tar cigarettes. He said that with 50 percent more tar, the chances of developing lung cancer and other grave respiratory diseases increase among marijuana users.
War on Drugs
Duterte, who ran for and won the presidential seat in 2016, used the elimination of drugs as one of his platforms. The tough talking former mayor promised Filipino voters a drug free country in just three to six months. If he fails, he says that people “can kill me” or he will step down from the presidency.
Since the start of the war on drugs, at least 13,000 people have been killed either in police drug stings and buy busts, or under mysterious circumstances. Corpses sprawl on Philippine streets, some of them killed by police because they allegedly fought back while being arrested, others with a cardboard sign around their necks saying that they are drug pushers or drug users and that they should not be emulated.
The entire drug war was premised on wrong statistics. Duterte said that there were 4 million drug addicts in the country, something that Benjamin Reyes, his own drugs board chief, has refuted, saying that the more accurate number would be 1.8 million drug addicts, users and pushers in the country.
Duterte would waste no time in firing Reyes a few days after that, saying that he cannot contradict the president. Months later, Duterte’s foreign affairs minister, Alan Peter Cayetano would face the UN and tell them that there were 7 million drug addicts, users and peddlers in the country.
Duterte has been known to flip-flop on his promises, as well as present data that are not factual. When he came to power, Duterte publicly shamed several judges, politicians, and police officers, calling them narcopoliticians. Supporters cheered while human rights advocated cringed anew at the development.
As it turned out, some of the people Duterte named were already dead for a long time, putting the accuracy of the drug matrix into question.
Duterte’s pronouncements on cannabis follows the same pattern. Half-truths and unverified facts, presented to the media and the public as if it these were unimpeachable. However, a simple fact check would show that Duterte cherry picked his facts when citing reports from the UN Office of Drugs.
While the UNODC did publish documents that say that cannabis smoke had more tar in it, it does not cite any studies to back up their claims. Digging further, you would realize that the study titled “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research” was used as basis for the UNODC pronouncements. The study showed that there is no significant association between smoking cannabis and lung cancer.
More than cherry picking facts, Duterte is also known to contradict himself. The Philippine president has flipped-flop on a variety of issues so many times that detractors have had several series on the “Duterte vs. Duterte” phenomenon. When it comes to marijuana, Duterte seems to be unable to make up his mind.
While painting cannabis as dangerous, Duterte came out publicly supporting medical marijuana, calling it an ingredient of modern medicine in August 2017.
Three to six months
When it comes to his words, Duterte seems to come across as unworthy of trust. In fact, with all the times that he has gone back on his promises and his pronouncements, it would be foolhardy to take anything that Duterte says and believe in them.
Journalists in the Philippines have a field day fact checking his words. Plus his aim seems to be to shock people, rather than giving them updates on what’s happening to the country.
And his three to six months deadline? The self-imposed deadline lapsed on December 31, 2016, close to a full year now. He barely made a dent. Excuses after excuses, Duterte asked for another six months to solve the drug menace. That did not work either. Alternating between admitting that he promised more than what he could deliver and blaming his political enemies for the continued rise of drug use in the country, he asked to get an extension to wage his drug war “forever”. Recently, he asked the Filipino people for another year.
All of these show that Duterte’s words on anything related to drugs, the drug war, and his recent pronouncements on marijuana are not to be trusted and much less to be believed.