Cannabis legalization efforts in Taiwan are gaining momentum, as public demonstrations gather large crowds of supporters and medical experts speak out on the need for sensible policy.
On April 17, pro-legalization group Green Sensation saw record attendance at its second Cannabis Parade next to the legislature buildings in Taipei City.
Around 1,500 supporters attended the event — compared to roughly 300 at the last rally in 2019 — which featured pro-pot talks with legal and medical experts, live music and weed-themed vendors.
Participants noted a heavy police presence and drug-sniffing dogs.
Taiwan has a proud democracy in Asia, but under the influence of China cannabis has been severely stigmatized, which has created considerable difficulties in advocating for legalization, Green Sensation spokesperson Chris Chung tells Mugglehead.
The government’s strict control and enforcement of cannabis doesn’t help either, he adds. “A Taiwanese may be sentenced to 10 years in prison, for just bringing CBD products from abroad into Taiwan.”
Chung said that following the rally, the Ministry of Justice stated its firm opposition to the legalization of marijuana.
By organizing and taking to the streets, Green Sensation hopes the government will hear its demands.
The group wants the state to end stigma and provide accurate cannabis education; to increase the allowable limit of total THC from 0.001 per cent to 0.3 per cent; and to remove weed from the country’s narcotics list, following a vote by the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs that recognized the medical value of the plant.
Green Sensation uses educational, non-violent resistance and shares the benefits of cannabis by talking to people on the street and on social media. “We also encourage stoners talking [about] cannabis with their parents or friends,” Chung says.
Chung says advocates in his country want to reform the system by changing Taiwanese values.
And there are some signs that officials can be reasoned with.
Last year, Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare responded to a proposal suggesting cannabinoid preparations be used for medical treatments like chemotherapy and for other rare diseases.
The ministry acknowledged that CBD-only products aren’t controlled and can be used for medical purposes following a doctor’s prescription. After physician authorization, patients have to apply for a special import permit and only for products with less than 0.001 per cent THC.
Because no domestic company has acquired a medical licence to sell CBD, Chung says patients turn to companies in the U.S. or other platforms that ship products from abroad, often with inflated prices.
All products that contain more than 0.001 per cent THC are classified as a category 2 narcotic drug under the Narcotics Hazard Prevention Act, carrying heavy prison sentences and fines.
Lack of political interest, fear in the way of cannabis reform in Taiwan
The rally hosted talks from Dr. Yen-Ho Lai, or Dr. Kiang, who’s a medical doctor, educator and cannabis advocate.
“Politicians act only when the majority of public demands changes, so I believe the major obstacle now is still the lack of interest and fear in this topic from the citizens,” Dr. Lai said in an email.
More talks and information in Mandarin are needed, he explains, along with balanced news reporting on all aspects of the plant instead of solely focusing on cannabis-related crime.
“Most people will react to cannabis based on their memories from the news, which are celebrities getting caught with weed and apologizing; or big scale busts of weed farms by the police department,” Dr. Lai says.
But while knowledge among medical professionals and the general public remains low, he’s optimistic that as global discussions around substance use, psychedelics and cannabis science continue to expand, diminishing fears will turn into support for legalization.
Cannabis criminalization is a waste of resources, experts say
Weed’s illegal status is putting a lot of people in jail with ridiculously long sentences, Dr. Lai.says
Later in April, Green Sensation organized another event in support of a small farmer who was sentenced with four-and-a-half years in prison for planting six marijuana plants.
“People caught with weed if not intended to sell don’t usually get jail time, but will have to go through exhausting procedures from the court and go to rehab for a good month,” he adds.
But while criminalization is wasting manpower in the legal system, Dr. Lai appreciates having the freedom to speak out.
“If I were in China, I [would] probably already be targeted and silenced,” he says.
He looks forward to more people joining the movement as more changes happen elsewhere.
“Surely the changes happening all around the world will have a impact, and particularly countries in Asia due to its proximity,” he says. “Canada, the U.S. and Thailand are three countries I often give examples of their change of stance toward cannabis.”
“In the end it might come [down] to the economical benefits that legalizing cannabis can bring.”