Wednesday 26 September 2018
A cannabis plant being tended to in Australia. Photo: Saeed Khan/AFP

First the country topples the only government it has had since independence, and now, in a mammoth move, the Pakatan Harapan Government is attempting to legalise medicinal marijuana in Malaysia.

Yes, you read right. The country which metes out mandatory death sentences to drug related offences is now working towards legalising a drug.

Why? It may have something to do with the fact that recently, a 29-year old man was handed the death sentence in August for distributing medicinal cannabis oil in 2015.

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A simulation of the cannabis oil extraction process. Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP

Muhammad Lukman, a 29 year old father of one, was arrested in December 2015 for the possession of 3.1 litres of cannabis oil, 279 grams of compressed cannabis and 1.4kg of a substance containing tetrahydrocan nabinol (THC).

He was taken into custody by the police along with his five-month pregnant wife, who was later freed. He was handed a death sentence by the Shah Alam High Court on 30 August.

News of this ruling led to public outrage, resulting in 93-year old prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad calling for the verdict and relevant laws to be reviewed.

Minister of Water, Land and Natural Resources Xavier Jayakumar said the cabinet had “very briefly” discussed medical marijuana last week, spurring informal talks on amending the relevant laws.

“The cabinet has reached a consensus to remove capital punishment in the man’s case, but garnering support for legalising medical marijuana will be an uphill battle.”

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

The Malaysia Medical Association (MMA) has said that the Health Ministry should be ready to step up its game and impose very strict regulations if the plan materialises.

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Vials like these may be a part of Malaysia’s future. Photo: Drew Angerer/AFP

Its president Dr Mohamed Namazie Ibrahim told UNRESERVED that not all doctors should be allowed to use it until recommendations are given by the Mnistry of Health (MOH).

“First of all it’s important that we know and use the proper term, ‘cannabinoid’. We must confine it to the active component as it is the best way to prevent confusion from mixing [it] up with other drugs.”

“As for the use of the drug itself, there is good evidence to show that cannabinoids aid in managing some forms of chronic pain. However, more research through existing clinical research centres is definitely needed in our local context,” he said.

The president went on to say that cannabinoids, like any other drugs are dangerous when used indiscriminately without adequate supervision.

He added that the implementation of cannabinoids can be emulated in the same way Malaysia has implemented Methadone Replacement Therapy for narcotic addiction.

“For that therapy, specific doctors have specific certifications and training to use methadone. The Health Ministry can bring similar guidelines for the use of cannabinoids. It is a well known fact that certain medicines have different effects in different communities and the study of this is known pharmacogenetics.”

Dr Mohamed said the Malaysian government needed to know how patients here respond to the therapy with cannabinoids and added that the response may or may not be the same as seen in other countries.

He also emphasised that the medication should not be dispensed in clinics or pharmacies, but should instead only be done through pain specialists in hospitals.

In light of the cultural, legal and societal challenges it faces, is Malaysia ready for medical marijuana?

Tell us what you think.

Related: Why More and More Governments are Legalising Marijuana