During the National Anti-Drug Day, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi cautioned that other countries move to decriminalize marijuana cannot be used as a benchmark here, citing that out of 26,668 addicts in the country last year as many as 23.9 per cent were repeat offenders.
“Although the proposal has not been officially rejected, personally I do not agree with it,” he said. His stance was also supported by the Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar who said Malaysia is not ready, declaring that “PDRM does not support and in fact opposes it being decriminalised”.
But did you know that marijuana (it’s original name is Cannabis – marijuana is the Mexican term for it) could potentially replace pain killers due to three big reasons?
Marijuana when used medically, is known to have lesser side effects, lower risk of an overdose and less likely to be a gateway drug unlike prescription painkillers which can lead to heroin addiction. For these reasons, advocates have long argued that safe access to medical marijuana should be a patient’s right.
In the United States, 23 states already have made medical marijuana accessible to individuals suffering from cancer, HIV, glaucoma and numerous other medical conditions with 52% of Americans believing it should be legalized.
Worldwide, Canada, Australia and the Czech Republic have paved the way for medical marijuana while Switzerland, Portugal and many Central and South American countries have various degrees of legal limits for marijuana use.
In a recent study by the Malaysians For Medical Marijuana Facebook page, a total of 81% of participants indicated that they are for the legalization of medical marijuana in Malaysia.
This issue leapt into the public spotlight again during the Malaysian Youth Parliament debate last month on a motion regarding drug laws highlighted the proposal. The Youth Parliament’s spirituality and religious committee Muhamad Ridhwan Muhamad Rosli who represents Selangor state, declared that many Malaysian youths had expressed that they do not even view marijuana as a drug.
“We are not asking for it to be legalised but supervised,” Muhamad Ridhwan said, pointing out that statistics show that only 8 per cent of drug users are addicted to marijuana, while 60 per cent are hooked on morphine and heroine, and the remaining 30 per cent are on methamphetamines.
His statement made headlines, igniting the public debate on legalizing marijuana and triggered a curt response from the Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Datuk M. Saravanan who shot down the suggestion.
“For the time being, the Government maintains that it is classified under the Dangerous Drugs Act. This decision is final,” Saravanan publicly replied, when asked to comment by the media.
Is Malaysia swimming against the tide in refusing to acknowledge the worldwide trend, which is leaning towards a grudging acknowledgement that marijuana is less dangerous than prescription drugs and should not be categorized together with all the designer drugs, which is causing all the problems these days?
New Studies Show Marijuana Is Safer Than Alcohol, Less Dangerous Than Common Painkillers
According to the study, at the individual level, booze presents the highest risk of death, followed by nicotine, cocaine and heroin. Marijuana ended up at the other end of the risk barometer, essentially the safest recreational drug.
The study funded by the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (2007–2013) on Addictions and Lifestyle in Contemporary Europe – Reframing Addictions Project found that cannabis is around 114 times less deadly than alcohol and was the only drug out of those examined to pose a low risk of death, reports Washington Post on 23 February 2015.
‘Comparative risk assessment of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other illicit drugs using the margin of exposure approach’ was compiled by Dirk W. Lachenmeiera and Jürgen Rehm in Scientific Reports published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine in February last year which you can read here.
In conclusion, the authors suggest that for low risk drugs like marijuana, regulation rather than prohibition would be a better and more justified approach.
They are not the first experts to come to this conclusion. The American Medical Association (AMA) holds the view that cannabis is such an effective analgesic that it has consistently lobbied against its prohibition for the sake of medical progress.
They point out the herb’s high potency yet essentially remain non-toxic compared to the widely available aspirin highlighting that marijuana has been used for over 5,000 years with no cases of overdose while aspirin which has been around for only about a 100 years cause about 500 deaths each year.
Even the United States’ National Cancer Institute (NCI) has updated its website FAQs to include studies proving cannabis as a natural remedy for cancer. It highlighted that marijuana “may inhibit tumour growth by causing cell death, blocking cell growth, and blocking the development of blood vessels needed by tumours to grow”, while also protecting normal, healthy cells.
Marijuana Is Another Name For Cannabis – And It Has Plenty Of Medical Uses
Under Malaysia’s Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 Drug (illegal in all forms, for all purposes within the country).
However did you know that a clause exists that allows the Health Minister to authorize a public officer or government appointed expert to cultivate the plan for research, educational and medical purposes?
This exemption is covered under the following sections:
Section 6B. Restriction on planting or cultivation of certain plants.
(2) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the Minister from authorizing any public officer to plant or cultivate any plant, from which raw opium, coca leaves, poppy-straw or cannabis may be obtained either directly or indirectly, in places and on such terms and conditions as may be specified in such authorization for research, educational, experimental or medical purposes.
In layman terms, this means that the Health Minister can authorize a government researcher to carry out further investigation into this centuries old remedy for many of mankind’s medical ailments.
In a previous interview with Malaysian Digest, Dr. Arif Husaini Abdul Rahim, a Medical Officer (MO) at Sarawak General Hospital had offered his medical opinion on this contentious issue.
“In terms of what we’ve found so far, there’s some role to cannabinoids in helping with pain and stiffness in multiple sclerosis (a disease affecting the covering of your nerve cells and pathways).
“Other potential benefits include reducing anxiety and stabilising the psychosis in people with schizophrenia. Otherwise, everything else is inconclusive and unsupported.
“Saying you should legalize marijuana for medical purposes gives a false impression that you legalize the plant, people grow it and smoke them at home to alleviate their aches and pains.
“What the medical field means when we want it to be legalized is legalizing production of the plant itself, in a strictly controlled environment which can open up access to further advances in studying the potential health benefits within the plant.”
A pharmacist from a local pharmaceutical franchise also shared her opinion with Malaysian Digest.
“There are benefits but in Malaysia we are not that experienced to use it and regulations might not be strong enough to control its usage. It might cost more harm than benefit’.
“I believe the big pharmaceutical companies should take stock and regulate it because they can ensure it is properly dispensed, but even so the chances of misuse are high, if we allow it to be imported.
“Of course by law only one supplier get it but somehow other unauthorized shipments will slip through. Its primarily used in pain management for cancer patient and is similar to painkillers, like morphine which has been prescribed by hospitals as well.
She believes that with the many painkillers in the market, marijuana is not included in the practice of doctors and pharmacists, citing their lack of experience even if it was legalized. Her comments clearly highlight that Malaysia still has a long way to go to ensure a proper regulatory framework can be put in place.
Making A Case To Legalize It For Recreational Use Is Much Harder
Even everybody’s favourite new world leader, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau , who is considered ‘cool’ to the younger generation took a public stance that marijuana decriminalization is a “bad idea.”
“Pot is still illegal in this country (Canada), and still will be until we bring in a strong regulatory framework to legalize, control, and make sure that we’re keeping it out of the hands of kids and make sure that we’re keeping it from generating tremendous profits for criminal organizations,” Trudeau said in a radio interview with local Canadian network, News 1130.
While many countries already stumble over legalizing medical marijuana, what happens if you legalize the whole lot, weed, cocaine, heroin, and every designer drug in between?
Portugal decriminalized the use of all drugs back in 2001, where possession and use of small quantities of these drugs is regarded as a public health issue by law, not an automatic criminal conviction. Sale and distribution and other large-scale business transactions are of course illegal, but getting caught meant a fine and being sent to a treatment programme rather than being thrown in jail with a permanent criminal record.
Now more than a decade later, the results are startling. According to statistics compiled by the nation’s Transform Drug Policy Foundation, Portugal saw a decrease in imprisonment on drug-related charges alongside a surge in visits to health clinics that deal with addiction and disease. Overall adult drug use is down slightly too and new HIV cases among drug users are way down.
Today, Portugal has the second lowest death rate from illegal drugs in all of Europe after experiencing one of the worst rates when a total prohibitive ban was in place, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) concluded.
Malaysians Share Their Views And Concerns About Legalizing Marijuana
Drug Free Youth Malaysia President Khairuddin Aziz used to smoke weed and marijuana daily and believes that there are medical uses for it, but for leisure it does nothing for the user, but the biggest drawback to legalizing marijuana are the big corporations who will exploit it for profit.
“I used to smoke it everyday and it could become addictive. When the marijuana is not strong anymore you want to go and get a stronger one, to get that kick,” he told Malaysian Digest.
“And that’s when people turn and add cocaine and heroine to the marijuana, and added chemicals to the marijuana to make it harder and stronger so it is no longer natural marijuana anymore.
“Marijuana is ok for medical uses but you need to get the license, because the people who push for it are not the ones who care about the health benefits, but because they want to smoke it.
A long held argument for decriminalisation and legalisation was the removal of the black market trade in illicit substances as referred to in the Portugal study.
Logically speaking, decriminalising users diffuses the returns for the other categories but Khairuddin fears that it will be hijacked for profit just like other prescription medicines in the market today.
“The pharmacies will make it expensive, and I’m sure a lot of pro-marijuana lobbyists are waiting to get the business opportunities, just like the big pharmaceutical companies control all the major medicines, they will monopolize marijuana as well.
“They don’t care for the people’s well beings, it’s about money. It will benefit them more. They will push for the drugs to the patients even when they don’t need it – it’s not really about curing cancer.”
Mie (not her real name) says that marijuana is better than cigarettes, as it has lesser health risks and the chances of getting addicted to ‘weed’ are small.
“I’ve been smoking marijuana and weed for years now, once in awhile. Everyone in my circle of friends smokes and eats marijuana. It’s not a drug, it’s just a herb and its health effects are not as bad as cigarettes as well as it does not contain a pulling effect’.
“Everything in moderation, as they say.. You can control your marijuana intake but of course if you take it excessively you will become a drug addict. But I still don’t think it should be legalized though, because there’s other ways to relax too,” she reasoned.
Bella, who owns her own dance studio says that she marijuana is good for her, because of her health, and how it helps her focus and when she is feeling down.
“Definitely it helps a lot especially with my personality because I am very hyper and restless, and it helps me calm down and it helps me focus at the same time. So instead of taking pills, it helps me focus at one task that I am doing’ she spoke to Malaysian Digest.
“It’s also clean, unless you take it too much. I don’t take it everyday, usually with friends, as a social smoker. And even when I take it I am surrounded by friends and when I take it alone, when during my university, I could finish my exam well. Like I could finish 5 essays in one go.
“Legalized or not, people will still be doing it right? So if you make it legal at least it won’t be causing crime whilst doing it – and that’s the only difference. And if you don’t like marijuana and all that, well don’t do it, that’s your opinion.”
Alex Stevens, a criminal justice professor was quoted in response to the Portugal case study that decriminalizing marijuana does not cause anarchy to break out and turn most of its citizens into slaves of drug addiction.
“The main lesson to learn is that decriminalizing drugs doesn’t necessarily lead to disaster, and it does free up resources for more effective responses to drug-related problems,” he concluded.
And perhaps, for Malaysia too, it might be have to stay ‘illegal’ for the near future as authorities try to stamp out the drug menace with tougher enforcement based on the official view to treat the problem as a moral one rather than a health issue.
RESOURCES: http://www.malaysiandigest.com & Written by Mushamir