Clearing the haze of medical marijuana


NO, you can’t grow them here in Malaysia. And you certainly can’t use it for leisure.

Ganja, weed, cannabis, marijuana – or in its many other names – is illegal to be consumed or used in its raw form.

But marijuana-based products for medical purposes can be marketed here legally, contrary to popular belief.

The Health Ministry has no issue on the registration of finished products containing marijuana, or components of marijuana, as an active ingredient.

This is different from its other forms including raw, dried and processed marijuana.

In fact, there is no legal barrier for marijuana-based medicine to be marketed in Malaysia, the Health Ministry tells Sunday Star, clearing up the cloud of legal restrictions on such products.

However, companies wanting to sell marijuana-based medicine must follow strict rules, such as producing scientific proof on its effectiveness and safety.

Medical marijuana, in general, is believed to be useful for pain relief, treating muscle spasms and nausea from cancer chemotherapy.

These products can only be prescribed by authorised people such as registered medical practitioners, veterinary officers, and licensed pharmacists, as a dispensed medicine based on a prescription by a registered doctor, according to our laws.

“We already have a mechanism for companies to register. This is controlled by two laws – the Sale of Drugs Act and Poisons Act.

“They must fulfil all criteria before they can market these products,” Health Ministry pharmaceutical services programme senior director Dr Ramli Zainal tells Sunday Star.

However, growing cannabis plants – be it to create medical products or not, is a crime in Malaysia, forbidden by the Dangerous Drugs Act.

Dr Ramli says the only situation where planting cannabis is allowed is through authorised government officials for specific reasons – research, educational, experimental or medical purposes.

This has been stipulated under Section 6B (2) of the Dangerous Drugs Act.

“But to date, no such cultivation has been carried out,” he says.

Dr Ramli adds that companies wanting to register medical marijuana-based products must produce evidence on its safety, efficacy and quality.

“They must show proof that the product has been manufactured with good practices and in a certified facility.

“Clinical trials must be shown as proof of efficacy and there should be no issues with safety for those who consume it.

“Once they comply with all the conditions, they may register,” he says.

Only one company has managed to sell a medical marijuana-based product in Malaysia after it successfully registered the product in 2014.

The company wanted to sell a mouth spray containing cannabis extracts, with an approved medication.

It was to treat moderate to severe spasticity due to multiple sclerosis, who have not responded adequately to other anti-spasticity medication.

“However, the company voluntarily withdrew from their efforts in 2015, and terminated their registration,” Dr Ramli explains.

The reasons for the withdrawal cannot be ascertained.

But as with all medicines, Dr Ramli says there are always possible side effects.

Among the possible side effects for the company’s mouth spray included hallucinations and feelings of depression and overexcitedness.

Nevertheless, the status quo remains: Malaysia’s current laws are sufficient to allow medical marijuana-based products, as long as the rules are strictly adhered to and scientific evidence is provided.

News on medical marijuana sparked public debate following the case of father of one, Muhammad Lukman, who was sentenced to death for possessing, processing and distributing medical marijuana (cannabis oil).

The Cabinet agreed to place a moratorium on his sentence, and was reportedly mulling to legalise medical marijuana.

The Government also has plans to abolish the death penalty in Malaysia.

Following Lukman’s case, there has been public debate on whether medical marijuana should be legalised (allowing the government to regulate it) or decriminalised (loosening of penalties for small, personal usage).

It was also reported that Thailand may be the first Asian country to legalise medical marijuana, with its parliament expected to approve the necessary laws as early as January.

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