In June of 2019, the Southeast Asian country of Malaysia made headlines by announcing its intent to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis possession for personal use. Since that time, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad has indicated his intention to decriminalize by the end of his term, but with “baby steps” that most Malaysians haven’t been able to see.
Malaysia has one of the harshest, most repressive regimes when it comes to cannabis use, which is why any efforts made to lighten the punishments are so significant. Nevertheless, brave and dedicated individuals are working tirelessly to further these important discussions, in the hopes of creating a brighter future for cannabis.
Green Flower contacted Harish Kumar, the Secretary-General and Director of the Malaysia Society of Awareness (MASA), to discuss his thoughts on the long road ahead. MASA is an NGO advocating for cannabis legalization in Malaysia.
Green Flower: How did you get involved with trying to end cannabis prohibition in Malaysia?
Harish Kumar: I’m a graduate from the National Defence University of Malaysia (NDUM) and started advocating for cannabis and human rights as a student in 2014. Together with a group of activists from the Facebook page Malaysia Medical Marijuana (Triple-M), we traveled to several countries to learn and give speeches on various platforms.
We registered the NGO “MASA” on the 1st of February 2018 to become a center for clinical research and human rights activism. Triple-M and MASA is the most well-known cannabis educational channel in Malaysia which is closely working with the government to start a clinical trial.
GF: What is the current status of cannabis in Malaysia? Is it used as a medicine at all?
HK: Sativex was once registered and available in government hospitals. However, the lack of demand among the small group of Multiple Sclerosis patients in Malaysia drove them to stop supply.
Cannabis is still under Schedule 1 of the Dangerous Drug Act 1952 in Malaysia. This category means it does not have any medical benefits. Cannabis was also used openly until about 1985 when former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir waged a war on drugs (following President Nixon in the U.S.). This made things worse as users are now recognized as “criminals” that deserve to be “hanged to death.”
It is illegal to use any substance to purely be intoxicated in Islam. However, it is permissible if it has medicinal benefits. The plant was traditionally used by the Malays, Indians, Chinese, and the other races in Malaysia for hundreds if not thousands of years.
GF: Is the current Malaysian government open to medical legalization of any kind?
HK: On 4th October 2020, the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA), the body under the Ministry of Health (MOH) which governs Schedule 1 substances announced that they are open for clinical trials to be conducted using cannabis. They are currently in the process of amending the DDA 1952 to exclude “hemp” with low levels of THC, however, the timeline for progress is still a blur with an unstable government.
GF: Is Malaysia further ahead than other countries in Asia or are they behind in regards to cannabis reform?
HK: Malaysia has harsh laws on drugs that are the same as Singapore and Saudi Arabia. All of these countries ban the use of cannabis and other drugs and have imposed death sentences on those who are caught with just 200 grams.
On 31st September 2020, an Indian coconut milk seller who was caught with slightly over 200 grams of cannabis in 2018 was sentenced to death. The stigma and hate that society has taught causes us to be far behind other countries in the sense of reforms. However, with God’s grace and hard work from our end, we hope to educate the masses and bring change to this injustice.
GF: What do you believe will be the future of cannabis in Malaysia?
HK: Realistically, medicinal cannabis will be given top priority. The NPRA stated that they will follow the same concept of the TGA in Australia to regulate and prescribe medicinal cannabis. If this new law takes place, thousands of critically ill patients will gain access. At the same time, CBD, hair, and skincare products will become a national boom.
Optimistically, with the right research and advancements, “recreational” use will be legal and regulated correctly within five years to avoid the flood of illegal products from neighboring countries.