THE first time I saw a marijuana plant was when I visited the room located on the second floor of the boarding house that my batch mate rented along Urgello St. It was planted in a pot placed outside the window and on the roof of the structure’s first floor extension. This was when shabu wasn’t the illegal drugs of choice yet among addicts. Even marijuana use wasn’t widespread then.
The second time was years later in a more problematic setting. We were doing organizing work in the Cebu City mountains when some farmers, egged on apparently by members of a syndicate, discovered the advantage of planting marijuana. That was the early stage of the surfacing of a menace that exists there until now.
Cebu City has long been considered Cebu island’s urban center but a big chunk of its land area is economically backward. Urbanization is largely in the plains. Where the terrain begins its rise, a different world also starts to presents itself. The people there till denuded mountains and coax them to grow agricultural products to sustain themselves and provide them with money for their other needs.
One agricultural product that the Cebu hinterlands has and the other mountain areas of the island don’t is mango. The city’s hilly lands are dotted with mango trees that farmers planted generations ago. But one has to invest in order to earn from those trees, spending money to buy insecticides, medicines to induce the tree to bear fruit and paper to wrap the fruit. That immediately excludes the poor peasant from the equation.
The traditional crop for farmers was corn, usually planted for the family’s consumption. Other crops grown to be sold during the weekly tabo (market day) include corn (mainly for family sustenance), tomatoes, eggplants, baguio beans, etc. and the usual root crops. Bringing mangoes and other agricultural produce to the buyer or the tabo is taxing process considering the distance and the terrain.
We heard that the marijuana seeds were first given to the farmers for free. These were usually planted in difficult-to-reach terrain or hidden amidst some crops. These were later brought to buyers after harvesting by couriers (either in backpacks or hidden in agricultural produce like squash or any other means).
One knew that a farmer was planting marijuana because of the change in his economic standing (like the house made of cogon and bamboo becoming one made of concrete and corrugated iron sheets). Some of them were brazen. Where ears of corn were once stored for future consumption, piles of marijuana leaves were seen. A farmer later explained to me the principle.
“Look,” he said. “Farmers used to carry a heavy load of agricultural produce to the tabo and goes home bringing a very light load of consumer items. Now, he brings a very light load of marijuana to the buyer, and goes home with a heavy load of consumer items plus extra cash.” No wonder they fought hard, often violently, attempts to force them to stop planting marijuana.
By the way, I am writing this because of the report that the committee on health of the House of Representatives has endorsed the bill legalizing and regulating the medical use of marijuana.
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on September 29, 2017.
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