Will Malaysia be the first Asian country to legalise medical marijuana?

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Photo: YouTube screengrab

On the heels of a death penalty meted to a 29-yer-old man for possessing, processing and distributing medicinal cannabis oil in Malaysia, government ministers briefly discussed the possibility legalizing of medical marijuana.

Xavier Jayakumar, Malaysia’s Minister of Water, Land and Natural Resources, said that the cabinet talked about marijuana’s medicinal value and has begun to also discuss amending existing laws governing the possession and use of marijuana.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has called for the review of relevant laws.

While the cabinet has agreed that capital punishment should be overturned for the 29-year-old man, there are many steps to take before medical marijuana is legalized, said Mr. Xavier:

“It will take a bit of encouragement and convincing as far as this topic is concerned. My own personal view is that if it’s got medicinal value, then it can be a controlled item that can be used by Ministry of Health for prescription purposes.”

Elsewhere in the world, Germany and a few states in the U.S. are following Canada’s example, which is set to legalize the use of cannabis in October. The country has created an industry around cannabis worth over US$60 billion (S$ 81.92 billion).

However, in many South East Asian countries, many who are charged with drug trafficking face the death penalty. In these countries, authorities do not distinguish whether the drugs in question are cannabis or cocaine.

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called “drug war” has left thousands of casualties in its wake. Both this country and Indonesia have been criticized by other nations because of their harsh drug policies. In Singapore, the government has refused to consider legalizing and decriminalizing drugs, since marijuana, it says, is not just a medical or public health issue.

K Shanmugam, Law and Home Affairs Minister, said that the opioid crisis in the US as well as its cannabis issues is justification for Singapore to take a firm stand on drugs, lest problems “spiral out of control.”

He took particular issue with pharmaceutical companies who advocated for opioid use among patients. “When doctors became concerned that patients were getting addicted, sales reps convinced them it was because patients were still in pain. The solution? Push even more pills to them. As a result, patients became addicts. Snorted or injected crushed pills, and progressed to heroin, other drugs.”

Mr. Shanmugan has advised caution against the medical uses of marijuana, since these are still being studied. Until only the medical properties of marijuana can be extracted and administered without side effects, it should not be considered for medical use.

Thailand, however, is looking to approve a drug trial of medical marijuana for eventual public use.

Malaysia’s challenge is how to create laws that will separate marijuana’s recreational and medicinal uses. The country’s Ministry of Health is not yet convinced of marijuana’s medical efficacy.

Mr. Xavier admits he needs more support before the use of marijuana is decriminalized and legalized, and he believes that this should be so. “It’s already been done in certain countries. If it’s going to be used for medicinal purposes, it can be used. Not for social purposes, for medicinal purposes — yes, it should be allowed to be used.”