BY UMSU PRESS
Marijuana (or Cannabis) is widely known as a psychoactive drug acquired from the Cannabis plant that has been used for both recreational and ritual purposes due to its diverse mental and physical effects on its users. However, little is known to the public that marijuana has also been used as a traditional medicine for centuries, and modern medicine is starting to recognize more of its therapeutic uses.
On 2nd December 2020, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the drug-related policy-making body of the United Nations, voted to reclassify cannabis and cannabis resin under an international listing with the intention to recognize its medical values, following WHO’s 41st Expert Committee on Drug Dependence’s (ECDD) primary recommendation since 2018.
In recent years, in countries such as Australia and Canada, the usage of marijuana for recreational use has been legalized. Physicians are allowed to prescribe medical marijuana, whereupon is a broad term for any cannabis-based treatment, to treat their patients’ symptoms including severe pain and nausea. Thus, it seems the issue of legalizing marijuana has become a global trend, what about Malaysia?
Legal and social background of marijuana usage in Malaysia
In Malaysia, marijuana is illegal and we have one of the strictest laws on the usage of the drug. It is listed as a controlled drug under the Dangerous Drug Act 1952 (DDA 1952), therefore heavy penalties such as prison sentences, fines and even probable death sentences will be imposed for those who are caught possessing, using or any other related activities involving the drug. To illustrate, if a person possesses more than 200 grams of cannabis, they are deemed to be drug trafficking by the DDA and sentenced to a mandatory death penalty if found guilty.
However, despite our country’s strict law, the Malaysian government has been exploring the option to legalize medical marijuana. The public has seen from the controversial case of Muhammad Lukman, who sold cannabis oil to provide medical benefits to others, got to escape gallows. Now, legalizing medical marijuana is on our government’s agenda and perhaps the biggest challenge that is to be faced by our country in allowing medical marijuana usage is to draft laws that are clear enough to distinguish between drug usage and trafficking. Hence, no chance for drug traffickers to find legal loopholes.
Generally, most Malaysians have a negative perception of cannabis (especially recreational cannabis) and do not want it to be legalized. They are of the opinion that cannabis, like many other drugs, brings more detrimental effects than benefits to the community, which should be banned for good. There is also a social stigma against medical marijuana usage, research and development in our country. This situation causes both legal and social pressure on researchers who want to study deeper the safety, efficacy and negative impact of cannabis drugs.
Why is it important?
You may question the necessity of using marijuana in the medical field. However, the reality is, more and more research has proven that marijuana has a great potential for treating patients in formulations. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved THC-based medications to reduce nausea during chemotherapy and improve appetite in HIV patients. When usual drug treatments are ineffective, cannabinoids have also been introduced for chronic pain and neurological conditions in several countries. Not to mention, marijuana has been classified by the CND to be similar to morphine and oxycodone in terms of their potential abuse and dependence.
Currently, we have little knowledge of the long-term impacts of marijuana usage by patients. Thus, more in-depth research is needed to determine the negative effects of marijuana usage and this could not be done if we keep on criminalizing and stigmatizing marijuana usage and research in medical settings. One of the aims for CND to reclassify cannabis is to promote research and development of cannabis-based medical products so we can further explore the therapeutic potential of marijuana for practical uses.
From our perspective on the issue, we believe a rational and effective reformation of the law should be adopted ,considering marijuana can be used as another form of treatment. Furthermore, the law should distinguish drug possession and trafficking to avoid individuals finding legal loopholes and abuse it for their gain. By legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, patients can safely have more treatment options to choose from with their doctors monitoring them. Social stigma against medical marijuana should also be eradicated so more thorough research can be done on cannabis drugs, and get the most benefits out of the cannabis itself, instead of leaving it as a recreational drug to abuse.
Written by Secretariat of Current Affairs 2021
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