Cannabis advocacy groups call for drug policy reforms

·4-min read
Cannabis advocacy groups call for drug policy reforms
Cannabis advocacy groups call for drug policy reforms

#KajiBukanKeji campaigners and Malaysia Society of Awareness (Masa) have expressed disappointment on the heavy-handed punishments given to those found guilty of drug-related charges.

The team behind the documentary Ayahku Dr G and #KajiBukanKeji campaign said that they were deeply saddened by the recent news of cannabis-related arrests.

“Moreover, we are disappointed by the lack of political will to reform our drug laws.

“There is a clear need for drug policy reform and greater discretion in sentencing, particularly when punishments as heavy and irreversible as the death penalty is involved.

“As long as our laws remain outdated, the burden they place on Malaysians, such as Dr Ganja and other victims of cannabis criminalisation, will continue to outweigh any intended benefits,” the campaigners told Malaysiakini.

Masa echoed these sentiments and referred to a recent case where a couple was arrested over cannabis, saying that it wants to reach a point where people will no longer have their lives wasted over this.

“People (make) mistakes. But if a small mistake is going to end up (with) you being hanged to death or spend life in prison, I don't think it's worth it,” its secretary Harish Kumar said.

Harish felt that the government possessed sufficient scientific evidence and research on cannabis to reduce the sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty.

This is in reflection of the United Nations’ removal of cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs - where it was listed alongside specific deadly, addictive opioids.

“It has to be something more logical. In the same way, if we're going to curb the illegal selling or supply of cannabis, you have to have a legal channel where patients or even recreational users can get it from.

“As for punishment, I don't think life imprisonment or a death sentence is appropriate. A fine would be more fitting," he added.

Earlier this month, a couple running a business baking and selling cannabis-laced cookies and cakes out of their Petaling Jaya home were arrested.

The duo joins many others in the country facing the possibility of being executed under Section 39(b) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952.

As of February 2019, 1,281 individuals were reported to be on death row, with 73 percent convicted of drug trafficking under Section 39(b).

Despite Malaysia's drug laws being one of the harshest in the world, previous governments have taken some initiative to consider changing their perspective on cannabis.

On June 27, 2019, then health minister Dzulkefly Ahmad announced that the government planned to work towards removing criminal penalties for the personal possession and use of drugs as well as treat drug use and addiction as a complex chronic relapsing medical condition rather than a crime.

That same year, however, Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah shot down the idea of supporting the medical use of cannabis oil.

At the time, the case of Muhammad Lukman Mohamad, who faced the death sentence for possession of cannabis oil and related substances, renewed calls to legalise cannabis products for therapeutic use.

However, as with many Pakatan Harapan policy announcements on the matter, the laws were never changed.

Understanding its medicinal properties

Masa said that while they do not condone the selling and production of cannabis products, they wished to highlight the importance of understanding how patients with severe illnesses, such as cancer and epilepsy, benefit from the medicinal uses of cannabis.

“In Bangkok, Thailand, this is what they did. They brought forward mothers who had children with epilepsy, autism and all these other illnesses and tried to treat them with cannabis and it worked.

“That is when the government started to make changes. So, this is what we're trying to do here in Malaysia,” Harish added.

He claimed that there are many individuals willing to approach the government for a compassionate appeal to take cannabis for their illnesses.

“In the Dangerous Drug Act 1952, it stated that patients who are in severe need of medicine should be given access and the government can grant that access to the government's clinic or hospital,” he said.

Based on over six years of personal experience in the cannabis legalisation movement, Harish felt that the government is not serious about pushing drug reforms.

“I feel that they are afraid that cannabis is intoxicating, and could be haram (forbidden in Islam).

“That would be one of the major setbacks. But with proper research, I think we can understand what tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) does to the human mind and body,” he said.

Cannabis - also known as marijuana or ganja - is a herb with psychoactive properties. It contains hundreds of chemicals collectively known as cannabinoids that can have various effects on the brain and the central nervous system.

Read more: Medical marijuana: How does the evidence stack up?

The best known of these cannabinoids is THC, which is the main psychoactive compound found in cannabis plants and causes the “high” sensation sought after by recreational users.

Other key constituents in cannabis plants are cannabinol (CBN) and cannabidiol (CBD), which are not psychoactive and are being investigated for potential medical use alongside THC and other cannabinoids.

The potential medical uses (and downsides) of cannabis and its derivatives remain an active area of research as more countries legalise marijuana for various purposes, including for medical treatment.

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