PUTRAJAYA: Malaysian cabinet ministers have reportedly begun informal talks to amend the law on medicinal marijuana amida public uproar over a death sentence handed to a man last month.
Malaysia's Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Xavier Jayakumar said in an interview with Bloomberg published on Tuesday (Sep 25) that the ministers had a brief discussion over the medicinal value of marijuana at a meeting last week.
He also told Bloomberg that it would be an "uphill battle" to garner support among the ministers for legalising medicinal marijuana.
"It will take a bit of encouragement and convincing as far as this topic is concerned," he said. "My own personal view is that if it’s got medicinal value, then it can be a controlled item that can be used by (the) Ministry of Health for prescription purposes."
At a press conference last week, the Malaysia health ministry said that it has insufficient data to support the use of cannabis oil to treat patients.
It added that cannabis oil can only be used for research purposes and that no doctors in Malaysia have used it as medicine as it is classified as a dangerous drug.
If the changes pass, Malaysia will be the first Asian country to liberalise the use of medical marijuana.
Countries such as Australia, Canada and Germany have legalised the medicinal use of marijuana or cannabis in recent years. A growing number of US states have also allowed the medical and/or recreational use of the drug in the past few years.
"It's already been done in certain countries," Xavier told Bloomberg. "If it's going to be used for medicinal purposes, it can be used. Not for social purposes, for medicinal purposes - yes, it should be allowed to be used."
Cabinet ministers have also reached a consensus to remove capital punishment for Muhammad Lukman, a 29-year-old man convicted of possessing, processing and distributing medicinal cannabis oil, Xavier said.
Lukman was handed the death sentence on Aug 30. He was arrested in 2015 for possessing 3.1 litres of cannabis oil, 279 g of compressed cannabis and 1.4 kg of a substance containing tetrahydrocon nabininol.
Under the country's Dangerous Drug Act (DDA), which carries the death penalty, individuals caught with more than 200g of cannabis will be charged for drug trafficking.
During the trial, Lukman testified in court that he had only sold cannabis oil to help patients suffering from illnesses such as cancer and leukaemia, according to his lawyer Farhan Maaruf. Lukman has filed an appeal for his sentencing.
Lukman's case sparked a debate over the use of marijuana for medical purposes. It also led to a Change.org petition to free Lukman, which has since garnered more than 60,000 signatures