Activists in Taipei, inspired by new laws in parts of the United States, kicked off a campaign this month to legalize marijuana, but they are given low odds of a breakthrough against the traditional anti-drug ethic of East Asia.
Some 300 people launched their effort April 20 with a demonstration outside the Taiwan parliament compound in Taipei. They asked that marijuana be regulated as a medication instead of as a drug – the possession of which carries three years in prison.
“We believe this thing can be handled according to the rules on medication,” said Luo Yi, spokesman for the group Green Sensation, which organized the demonstration. “To break it out and classify it as a drug we think won’t be helpful in solving any problems. We hope marijuana can be legalized and hope to promote it first for medical use.”
The pro-marijuana campaign is unlikely to effect change, a spokesman for the Taiwan justice ministry said last week. A ruling party lawmaker called Taiwan too conservative to accept legalization.
If Taiwan legalized marijuana, it would be the second place in East Asia to go in that direction after Thailand. Thai legislators agreed in December to allow the licensed medical use of marijuana. Police across most of the region see marijuana as a drug worthy of fines and prison terms.
At the April 20 demonstration, stalls displaying hemp clothing lined a blocked-off Taipei street. A disc jockey spun dance music from the rally stage where people in their 20s and 30s danced in colorful, loose-fitting clothes.
Marijuana conveys a “culture” such as that of “hippies” in the United States, Luo said. Today’s younger Taiwanese are “open” to the culture, he added. “Some of our people have seen research and reports from other countries and realize, hey, (marijuana) is not so bad after all,” he said.