All up in smoke

Throughout the developed world, countries are liberalising marijuana laws but the message has yet to reach these shores. 

NEXT month, Canada will fully legalise recreational marijuana. In Argentina, the government has been providing medical marijuana since March 2017. In Uruguay, marijuana is not only legal but a growing enterprise. From Holland to Jamaica, Portugal to Australia, lawmakers are doing the same thing.

What did we do? We just sentenced a man to death for it last week.

A 29-year-old father of one, Md Lukman was sentenced to hang for possessing, processing and distributing cannabis oil. He provided this item to patients who were suffering from ailments that marijuana and its active ingredient tetrahydrocannibol are associated with treating.

The case that concluded had a number of questionable elements including technicalities over the testimony of the chemist who admitted that it was the first time he was handling the product. But nonetheless the court went ahead and pronounced the death sentence.

So why would Lukman gamble by doing such a thing? His lawyer Farhan Maaruf told me: “The motivation is simple. He simply wanted to help people. Literally. I remember asking him to ask for a plea bargain and his answer to me was that he had not done anything wrong and was not a drug pusher. It is a cause he believes in.”

In his mind Lukman was not doing anything wrong, but Malaysian law has not caught up with the reality of the situation, and now he could pay the ultimate price.

Samantha Chong is a criminal law practitioner who is working on drug policy reform. A former prosecutor in the AG’s Chambers (2009-2012), she felt that the criminal system is flooded with those who are tried for non-violent drug crimes.

“Every time I go for international conferences and tell others that in Malaysia you can be hanged for possession of 200g of marijuana, those in the outside world are shocked.

“Our Dangerous Drugs Act was based on three international conventions, none of which called for the death penalty in combating drugs. The way we are conducting our war on drugs, we have never managed to reduce the supply or demand.

“According to UNODC World Drug reports, the supply for illicit drugs is at its highest in history.

We are wasting money, clogging up the justice system and over-crowding our prisons. Now around 59% of cases in the prison are those who commit non-violent drug-related offences.”

There are similar numbers for those on death row. In other words, many Malaysians will go to the gallows for trafficking in a drug deemed relatively harmless in many parts of the world. And yes, we can have a whole other discussion about the death penalty itself.

Part of the reason for so many convictions is that the Dangerous Drugs Act has been amended to allow for a lot of presumptions. If you are found with it, it presumes you knew about it. If it crosses a certain quantity, you are presumed to be a trafficker.

The truth is that cannabis should not be treated on the same level as hard drugs such as heroin or cocaine.

“With marijuana the chances of addiction are very minimal, but somehow it is categorised along with heroin and methampethamine.

“This needs to be reviewed, especially considering the traditional use of cannabis for medicinal value,” says Chong.

Now there is an inherent challenge in being an advocate for calling on reform on marijuana laws. For a start, it is automatically assumed that you are one of those flouting current laws.

I won’t speak for others but I was no Bill “I did not inhale” Clinton.

I certainly did experience the joys many a time, albeit largely in my late teens and early 20s (from 1990-1996) and most of the time when I was not living in Malaysia.

I will not say that the drug is harmless. I believe too much of it can rob you of your drive and desire to cope with the world. The temptation to be indolent is certainly there.

But I believe it does not lead to violent crime and on the contrary, does have plenty of stress-relieving and pain-killing properties.

And among the conditions it has had positive results in combating include glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, Crohn’s disease and helping overcome the nausea that accompanies chemotherapy.

So why we are hanging on to outdated legislation, particularly if parts of the rest of the world have recognised its folly? Many more lives could be lost as we procrastinate over making a bold change.

And change is what is needed. I was slightly heartened when I saw that Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar publicly brought the case to the Health Minister’s attention on social media.

But will it be too late to save Lukman and Chong’s client Amiruddin @ Nadarajan Abdullah who is known as Dr Ganja for his advocacy of medicinal marijuana?

  • News editor Martin Vengadesan echoes the call of legendary marijuana advocate Peter Tosh . . . legalise it.
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Opinion , marijuana , Watching The World


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