Exclusive Interview with Dhira Narayana, Founder of Lingkar Ganja Nusantara (also known as the Indonesian Cannabis Circle) , a Movement to Raise Awareness and Legalize Cannabis Research in a Conservative Country
Dhira Narayana, founder of the movement Lingkar Ganja Nusantara (LGN) — otherwise known as the Indonesian Cannabis Circle — has an extensive familiarity with cannabis in Indonesia. Narayana is on a mission to catalyze a movement and raise awareness of the potential benefits and usage of the plant through legal research at a social, medical, and economic level in Indonesia.
The movement has more than 490,000 followers on social media, which includes followers on their Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Indonesia — a socially conservative country located in Southeast Asia — has a long history of cannabis use, particularly in the province of Aceh, Transnational Institute (TNI) described.
For instance, in Aceh, cannabis is still used for traditional, cultural, and spiritual needs. TNI reports that the usage of cannabis in Aceh dates back to the 16th century, and that the Acehnese use cannabis for cooking and for herbal remedies to cure diseases such as diabetes.
Though there has been historical usage of cannabis in Indonesia, the plant remains illegal.
Agung Mattauch LL.B., LL.M., advocate and chairman of Matt, Evert and Partners Law Office in Jakarta, who has worked with the Indonesian Supreme Court, once mentioned in an interview with Emerald that cannabis use results in severe punishment in the country.
Mattauch quoted in the interview, “it is explicitly mentioned in Law 35/2009 that users are threatened with life imprisonment and even death sentences.”
Despite the risks, Narayana, who is a psychology graduate from the University of Indonesia, decided to start the LGN movement in 2009.
“We started this [in] 2009, now it’s 2020 — approximately 10 years ago,” Narayana says in an exclusive interview with Emerald.
“University campus may be the easiest place to get cannabis in — almost — all over Indonesia,” he says, whilst emphasizing that he had travelled around other Indonesian colleges to explore this matter.
The exposure he had with cannabis sparked a tremendous interest in the plant. So, Narayana decided to research cannabis for his undergraduate thesis.
After finishing his thesis and graduating college, “I decided to become a cannabis researcher,” Narayana continued.
He now describes himself to be an “activist. But I am also a social entrepreneur.”
When asked why he chose to study cannabis and not other substances, Narayana jokes, “It’s magic. I never had any aspirations or thoughts of being interested in cannabis.”
But when Indonesian politicians also ask him “why cannabis?” Narayana emphasises, “My answer is simple: because the plants exist in Indonesia. And in Indonesia no one thinks about it.”
He saw a “unique opportunity” to raise awareness of the plant, its existence in the country and its potential usage.
And so he began the movement.
“Initially this organization was founded because at that time, my friends in Jakarta and Bandung [Indonesia], met on Facebook,” via a group called “Support the Legalization of Cannabis,” says Narayana.
“There we chatted, ‘let’s legalize cannabis,’” Narayana explains.
At that time, Narayana says the group “didn’t understand politics,” and was unaware of how big of a responsibility it was to lead such a controversial movement.
Back then, Narayana campaigned and raised awareness for the legalization of cannabis in Indonesia.
“It turns out that the wording of “legalizing cannabis” was very controversial and it became really big news,” he recalls.
“We realize that the language of “legalization of cannabis” cannot be accepted in Indonesia,” he explains, that’s because, “Indonesia’s connotation of legalization is to liberate it,” he adds.
Indonesians thought that “legalization means that everyone can use it,” Narayana describes further.
“Our words were twisted by the media with a misconception of ‘these people wanted free use of cannabis, what’s going to happen with our younger generation as they get high?’” Narayana says.
Despite all the controversies, “We were happy, because we started selling clothes and the clothes were selling well,” adds Narayana. “We got some income and used the money to build a movement; we started renting offices — like people building a normal startup business.”
Indonesian Cannabis Circle still has lots of missions; one of which is research.
“Give us the access to do research,” Narayana says. “Back then [when the movement first started], we crossed the line by wanting cannabis to be legal right away. Now we realize, before we legalize it, we have to do research first so that we have the knowledge,” he continues.
The Brazillian Journal of Psychiatry reported that the interest in cannabis research has increased since 1965. Academic research and literature on cannabis had started early on just in the U.S. alone. David Bienenstock of Leafy, mentioned how a study on cannabis was conducted by Dr. Robert Galbraith Heath started in the 1970s.
When asked whether it was too late for Indonesia to begin its own cannabis research, as other countries have already led the way, Narayana says, “If we want to participate in the global economy [of cannabis], we need to know about the product.”
To compete, Narayana believes that Indonesia has to do their own research, if not, “we will always be spectators; we will always be consumers,” he explains. “If we don’t have the products and knowledge about cannabis — which can be scientifically justified — we will never enter the battlefield [global industry of cannabis].”
Narayana hopes to one day make “medical cannabis free for people who really need it,” referring to people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Rich people still have to buy it,” Narayana jokes.
Narayana still has a hard time wrapping his mind around Indonesia’s standpoint on cannabis as well.
“Our president [Joko Widodo] has never made a statement about cannabis. So we don’t know if he is for it or against it,” he says. “The President never said anything publicly.”
“In short, the statement on cannabis in our country is not clear,” he explains.
“Several times the Indonesian Narcotics Agency mentioned that “for research, we will support”, but in reality, they never give the green light for anyone to do research,” he says with confusion.
Narayana constantly stresses the urgency of medical cannabis research. “The level of urgency is towards the medical side,” he adds. “The Indonesian National Health Insurance System is already in deficit.”
Narayana remains hopeful that, “we will start this research in approximately one year at the latest,” he says.
“If the research is already running, to get the product [medical cannabis], maybe it will only take six months to eight months,” he continues.
In the meantime, Narayana explains that people abroad can help the movement by “buying [LGN’s] merchandise, and following our Instagram.”
As of now, Narayana only hopes for the government’s support for cannabis research.
“My hope is not that far, to do research in all fields, with no limitation, from social problems, medical problems and everything else,” he says.
To read the next part of the article click here.
Written By: J. Laura Arman
To support the movement, follow LGN on social media accounts or purchase their merchandise (which ships internationally).
- Indonesian Cannabis Circle Social Media Profiles: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter
- Indonesian Cannabis Circle Shop: Instagram, Facebook
Cannabis in a Conservative Country: The History and Politics of Cannabis in Indonesia
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