MUCH of Asia is home the world’s toughest drug laws that impose stiff penalties like the mandatory death sentence for trafficking of illicit narcotics.
The introduction of the tough laws date back more than a century; in 1909, the Shanghai Opium Conference led to the formation of the Opium Advisory Committee and the Permanent Central Opium Board at the League of Nations that shaped much of the current legislation on psychotropic drugs.
With the production, trafficking and consumption of illicit drugs thriving in the region, especially in the notorious Golden Triangle, such laws show little signs of changing.
However, some advancements in the medical field have led to the discovery of numerous benefits in marijuana, which has for the past decade been used in western countries like the US to help cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and other patients cope with their symptoms.
A major report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine entitled, “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids”, found that cannabis was extremely effective in treating chronic pain, especially for those suffering from multiple sclerosis. It is also effective for treating chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting in cancer patients.
And while remaining largely conservative to the idea of legalising the drug for recreational use, some Southeast Asian countries are looking to catch up with their western counterparts in legalising the drug for medical purposes.
In August 2016, the Thai government said there were by both the government and private organisations to discuss the possibility of decriminalising the use of medical marijuana.
At least four agencies agreed that marijuana should be removed from the list of illegal Category 5 drugs.
The four organizations with representatives at the meeting were the Crime Suppression police unit, Drug Suppression unit, National Agricultural Council and officials from the Council of State.
Currently, Thai law prescribes a five-year jail term and/or a THB100,000 (US$2,800) fine for those caught in possession of marijuana. Consumption, on the other hand, could land the accused in prison for a year and/or a fine of THB20,000 (US$570).
The proposal proved to be popular as poll seeking public opinion on whether it should be legalised resulted in nearly 80 percent of respondents saying “yes”.
Even more interesting is that those who agreed with the proposal said the authorities should allow marijuana to be used for both medical and recreational purposes.
Despite its reputation for having a zero-tolerance on drug-trafficking, the nation is the latest in the region to consider legalising medical marijuana.
Several weeks ago, the government said it has begun informal talks to determine the medical value of the organic drug,
Public debate on the drug came in wake of the death sentence handed to a 29-year-old father of one, Muhammad Lukman, who was caught distributing cannabis oil, mostly for cancer patients.
Under the country’s Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, individuals caught possessing 200 grams or more of cannabis can be charged under drug trafficking, which carries the mandatory death penalty.
The recent conviction and sentencing had also prompted Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to call for a review of the existing drug laws.
Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs that claimed the lives of thousands since mid-2016, the Philippines committee on Health in March last year endorsed the use of medical marijuana.
House Bill 180 prescribes the rules for the proper use of medical marijuana, including the designation of a qualified medical cannabis physician, a medical cannabis patient who shall be issued an identification card, a qualified medical cannabis caregiver and a qualified medical cannabis compassionate centre.
Lawmaker Rep. Seth Jalosjos believes legalising marijuana for medical use “will benefit thousands of patients suffering from serious and debilitating diseases”.
The Bill also has the backing of the Philippine Cancer Society with Dr Jorge Ignacio saying he and other physicians at the organisation support the use of medical marijuana for patients with debilitating ailments and believe that the drug is capable of relieving certain medical conditions.
Medical marijuana has been frowned upon by Filipino leaders in the past, but Albano feels confident that his Bill will pass with Duterte in power.