Legalising medical marijuana

PETALING JAYA: Legalising medical marijuana will prevent the substance from being sold in the black market and being open to abuse, say marijuana advocates.

Dr Kelvin Yii, a member of the newly formed parliamentary caucus to study regulations on the use of marijuana and ketum for medical purposes, said they were looking into legalising medical cannabis or hemp which contains cannabidiol (CBD), which has proven health benefits.

He said based on various research studies, the evidence on the health benefits of cannabis has been mounting over the past 10 years.

These include treatment for nausea caused by chemotherapy, muscle relaxants to relieve muscle tightness sometimes associated with multiple sclerosis and paralysis, as well as to promote appetite and treat chronic pain.

“When we talk about legalising, it is not about having it widely circulated in the open market but rather proper regulations so it is used specifically for its medicinal and economic properties only.

“This means there is an element of control of the product. We can monitor its implementation, tax it, control the production and sale, and evaluate the impact on society.

“This will also allow patients to have legal, safe and reliable access to medical cannabis and not resort to black market access, which may have questionable and harmful compounds including pesticide, moulds and other impurities,” he said, adding that the caucus was not looking into legalising recreational marijuana.

Dr Yii said while he understood public concerns that legalising medical cannabis might lead to social ills and possible misuse, the multi-party caucus was only pushing for it to be properly regulated.

He cited how cigarettes and alcohol cause more harm and death all around the world but both items were still legally regulated in the country.

“If medical cannabis is left unregulated, the demand will still be there. Supply will then be obtained in the black market which may be more dangerous and open to abuse,” he said.

Dr Yii said the caucus would look into the issue holistically and consider the views from different stakeholders including how to install safeguards in a local context.

The Bandar Kuching MP said with proper regulations, approved medical cannabis products would involve regulated professionals such as chemists and be dispensed in a regulated manner.

“This is also economically beneficial to the country,” he added.

On Thursday, a bipartisan caucus led by Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman was formed in an effort to formulate policies and strategies to study the regulation of the use of ketum and medical cannabis to reduce harm.

The move came after Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin said the government was looking into legalising medical marijuana.

Malaysia Society of Awareness vice-president Harish Kumar said they have been following many countries on their process of legalising marijuana.

Harish said marijuana should be legalised for medical usage, citing various instances where a profound effect was seen on severely ill patients.

“The bipartisan caucus is a good step as it can help people to understand based on scientific facts.

“It needs to look at clinical trials to prove that cannabis does not intoxicate or make a person high or become addicted.

“But with today’s technology, we have people who modify it to have high tetrahydrocannabinol content. It is something that we have to be careful of,” he said.

Universiti Putra Malaysia neuroscience researcher Assoc Prof Dr Mohamad Aris Mohd Moklas said the caucus should look into people-centric policies that would benefit Malaysians medically and economically.

Dr Mohamad Aris, who has conducted research on using an extract of cannabis on animals, said more than 30 countries in the world have legalised cannabis as a form of treatment.

“I am against the recreational use of cannabis, but for medical use, there are a lot of applications that can be applied.

“Thailand has allowed cannabis to be used and for people to cultivate it,” he said, adding that cultivation must be strictly regulated to prevent misuse of the plant.

Lawyer Samantha Chong said the country’s laws still criminalises cannabis although the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs has voted to drop cannabis and cannabis resin from its Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

She said there was a need to review the definition of cannabis, adding that it was also time to regulate cannabis to allow local clinical trials and research on medical cannabis, and to eliminate the black market.

On whether legalising marijuana would lead to social ills, Chong said every substance was capable of being abused.

“We need to look at the reasons behind this.

“Childhood trauma, abuse and neglect are among the reasons why young people are using drugs.

“Poverty, family conflict and mental health are risk factors for drug addiction. To reduce demand and the supply of drugs, we need evidence-based scientific intervention while also facilitating access to controlled medicines for those in need,” she said.

Chong added that a strict policy and legal framework was needed to regulate medical cannabis.

For example, she said medical cannabis must be prescribed only by trained doctors.

“We can learn from the United States and Canada where revenue from cannabis sales is used to fund drug prevention programmes,” she said.

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