KUALA LUMPUR, August 23 — Existing users and medical doctors prescribing medical cannabis can still be prosecuted under current law, despite awaiting product approval through official channels.
In a Dewan Rakyat sitting on July 28, the Deputy Health Minister Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali told Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman that the Ministry of Health (MOH) is forced to follow the letter of the law with regards to marijuana that is currently illegal under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952.
Possession of narcotics banned under the Dangerous Drugs Act, even for very small quantities, is punishable with the death sentence if it is considered drug trafficking.
Dr Noor Azmi added that the country’s rigid attitude also comes from Malaysia’s ratification of the Single Convention on Narcotics and Drugs 1961. This convention limits the possession, use, trade in, distribution, import, export, manufacture and production of drugs exclusively to medical and scientific purposes.
Syed Saddiq was asking about the latest government plans to approve the use of medical cannabis in Malaysia.
He pointed out that as MOH’s proposed framework for the registration of prescription drugs containing cannabidiol (CBD) later this year, with targeted registration next year, doctors who prescribe medical cannabis to patients and patients themselves would still face criminal prosecution.
The Muda president claimed that many parents give medical cannabis to children for mental health issues, epilepsy, and ADHD, as he asked for “sympathy and compassion” for people who take marijuana for medical purposes, pending formal authorisation of such products in Malaysia.
“I really understand the anxiety and worry, and attentiveness of Your Honourable that is perhaps shared by many more here. However, we are bound by the laws that have long existed and we need to amend them,” Dr Noor Azmi said, according to a Hansard of the proceedings.
“Right now we have, as I have previously stated, we have moved forward and we will go as fast as we can. I will bring the issue that Your Honourable has raised to the parent committee later.”
The deputy health minister was referring to MOH’s Parent Committee on the Industrial Development of Cannabis and Ketum for Medical Purposes, chaired by Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin and comprising members from the Home Affairs Ministry, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the Agriculture and Food Industry Ministry, and the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim).
“The Cabinet will decide on the need to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 with regards to the control of cannabis and hemp, including creating different definitions for cannabis and hemp, depending on the committee’s findings.”
Hemp plants and marijuana plants are both the same species. The United States legally defines hemp as a cannabis plant containing 0.3 per cent or less THC, the psychoactive compound, whereas marijuana is defined as a cannabis plant containing more than 0.3 per cent THC. CBD, another compound that is not psychoactive, can be derived from both hemp and marijuana plants.
Malaysia’s Dangerous Drugs Act, however, does not distinguish hemp from other cannabis plants.
Dr Noor Azmi added that parties wishing to market products with cannabis extracts in Malaysia can submit applications for market authorisation to drug control authorities.
“MOH does not reject studies on the effectiveness of medical cannabis. In fact, if there are products related to medical cannabis that have been approved for use in other countries, the company can register the product in Malaysia,” Dr Noor Azmi said.
“We have seen many countries – about 40 countries out there that have approved [cannabis]. Thailand has approved because they have their own data, for example. So, we are behind and MOH is prepared to look into these new matters.”
The deputy minister added that MOH welcomes applications for clinical trials on products containing cannabis extract for medical purposes in Malaysia, as no such studies have been conducted yet here.
Separately, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said in a written reply to Jempol MP Mohd Salim Sharif last July 25 that parties wishing to market medications containing cannabis or ketum extract (mitragynine) for medical purposes may submit an application with drug control authorities — provided they have sufficient scientific evidence on the medical use of the product.
“MOH wishes to stress that the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 and two other laws – the Poisons Act 1952 and the Sale of Drugs Act 1952 – that control the use of cannabis or ketum (mitragynine) extracts for medical purposes do not prohibit import, export, sale, supply, or manufacturing of products containing cannabis or ketum (mitragynine) extracts for medical purposes as long as these activities comply with the law.”
Khairy is currently in Bangkok, Thailand, to get a briefing from his counterpart on the country’s cannabis policies. He is scheduled to visit Siam Cannabis Land, a cannabis farm.