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THE first time I saw a mar­i­juana plant was when I was in high school. I was in the board­ing house of a classmate who kept a plant in a pot on the roof be­low his room’s win­dow. He ob­vi­ously smoked the leaves of the plant later, but that was when I was no longer around. We were young and into hard rock mu­sic but the most that I did was drink liquor and smoke cig­a­rettes a lit­tle. I was never into mar­i­juana.

The next time mar­i­juana came into the pic­ture was in the ‘80s when I was in the coun­try­side. Some­body or some group in­tro­duced the plant to the farm­ers and that changed the com­plex­ion in some parts of the Cebu moun­tains. Farm­ers earned more plant­ing mar­i­juana than plant­ing corn and cash crops like toma­toes, baguio beans, etc. and even got more from it than tend­ing to the mango plants there.

In­ter­est­ingly, mar­i­juana is still be­ing grown in the Cebu moun­tains as proven by the raids, in­ter­mit­tent these may have be­come though, fol­lowed by the burn­ing of up­rooted plants. Of course, grow­ing mar­i­juana is risky and te­dious and its ef­fect on the body less ful­fill­ing for ad­dicts, that is why it has been sup­planted by shabu, which is chem­i­cal-based and eas­ily pro­duced in bulk.

But mar­i­juana has not left re­ally and is even con­sid­ered more and more as “harm­less”— yes, as “harm­less” as, say, cig­a­rettes. That must be in the mind of Pres­i­dent Duterte when he joked about smok­ing it to keep him­self awake and alert for the lengthy As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions sum­mit ac­tivit i es.

I have heard that said by taxi driv­ers a num­ber of times. To keep them­selves awake and alert the whole night in a 24-hour grind, they sup­pos­edly use mar­i­juana. Some taxi operators are re­port­edly tol­er­ant of mar­i­juana use but oth­ers are strict. I don’t know the setup now af­ter the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion in­ten­si­fied its drive against the illegal drugs trade.

In the place where I grew up in Sam­bag 2, some of my kaba­bata used to smoke mar­i­juana but we took that lightly and we even merely joked about its ef­fect. Over­all, mar­i­juana use wasn’t much of a prob­lem com­pared with shabu, which be­came an even big­ger busi­ness. Mar­i­juana is con­sid­ered less harm­ful than shabu but one can still get ar­rested for mere pos­ses­sion of it.

When I was detained at the old Bagong Buhay Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter, which was lo­cated in Barangay Apas in the late ‘80s, I be­friended a man who was caught pos­sess­ing mar­i­juana.

Iron­i­cally, mar­i­juana was sold in the jail at that time and at times one could smell the smoke waft­ing from the “kubol,” a makeshift room made from sacks, in our “bri­gada.”

Ev­ery time some­body smokes mar­i­juana, I would look at the man and rib him about it. “You have been jailed for months now for what?” I would ask him. He would just smile and shake his head ev­ery time. But one good thing about his ex­pe­ri­ence is that he never smoked mar­i­juana in­side. Judg­ing from his com­plex­ion and look, I say the man was from a well-off fam­ily.

They say mar­i­juana can have med­i­cal uses. But can it straighten the think­ing of the pub­lic of­fi­cial who uses it?

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