Malaysia in Talks to Become First in Asia to Allow Medical Pot

Marijuana seized in Thailand. (Photo: AP/Sakchai Lalit)

By Anuradha Raghu and Anisah Shukry

Malaysia, which imposes the death penalty for some drug trafficking offences, is racing against Thailand to become the first Asian country to legalize marijuana for medical use.

The cabinet “very briefly” discussed the medicinal value of marijuana in a meeting last week and have started early and informal talks on amending the relevant laws, Minister of Water, Land and Natural Resources Xavier Jayakumar said in an interview on Tuesday in Putrajaya, the country’s government center.

“It’s already been done in certain countries, and in certain states in America,” Xavier said. “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.”

Discussions on allowing the drug started after public objections to the death penalty handed to a 29-year-old man sentenced for possessing, processing and distributing medicinal cannabis oil. Even Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 93, said the verdict and relevant law should be reviewed in the country, where Muslims make up more than half of the population.

Canada has taken the lead in developing the medical marijuana sector, creating a multibillion dollar industry. Thailand’s Government Pharmaceutical Organization, a unit of its Ministry of Public Health, is trying to persuade its military government to approve studying the drug so it can market it for medical use.

“My own personal view is that if it’s got medicinal value, then it can be a controlled item that can be used by Ministry of Health for prescription purposes,” Xavier said, adding that the Ministry of Health would have the final say.

© 2018 Bloomberg L.P