The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health and Welfare on Wednesday dismissed an e-petition that urged that cannabis be downgraded to a Category 3 drug and its use in medical treatment be legalized, sparking a vigorous debate among netizens yesterday.
The e-petition was on the Public Policy Network Participation Platform of the National Development Council’s Web site and garnered more than 5,000 signatures since July, exceeding the threshold needed for the proposal to receive consideration by the government.
Some netizens blasted ministry officials for what they called a “paternalistic, conservative mindset,” adding that Taiwan has not kept up with more progressive nations on the issue of decriminalization.
They called on the government to hold public forums to discuss the issue of allowing medical marijuana.
Several netizens said that possession of cannabis for medical use has been legalized in Canada, Australia, and many EU countries, as well as 25 states in the US, as well as Washington.
They also said that the legalization of medical or recreational marijuana is on the ballot in nine US states, including California, Arizona, Florida, Nevada and North Dakota.
However, some netizens opposed the decriminalization of cannabis, saying it is a “gateway drug” and would lead to habitual use and addiction that would result in surging crime rates.
As well as advocating the legal use of cannabis for medical use, the petition urged that it be downgraded from being a Category 2 narcotic drug under Taiwan’s Narcotics Hazard Prevention Act (毒品危害防制條例) to a Category 3 drug.
Along with opium, coca, amphetamine, and their derivative products, cannabis is considered a Category 2 drug.
If it was downgraded to a Category 3 drug — a group which includes ketamine — it would carry a lighter punishment, and in many cases users would receive a fine of less than NT$50,000 and a warning.
Deputy Minister of Justice Chen Ming-tang (陳明堂) said that his ministry had held a meeting on the decriminalization of cannabis, at which officials had used as a reference the nation’s ketamine problem.
Officials said that the use of the drug is rampant among young people, and as users are not prosecuted for consuming the drug, there is no effective deterrent.
Officials and academics said cannabis is addictive and its decriminalization would exacerbate the nation’s existing drug problem, so they did not accept the proposal of the e-petition, Chen said.
Ministry of Health and Welfare officials presented information from the UN, which said that there was insufficient evidence to support the wide use of cannabis for medical purposes, and said that no country in Asia allows cannabis or cannabis products for medicinal use, and neither should Taiwan.
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