Is Malaysia ready to roll the dice and legalise cannabis?

An expert presents a cautious perspective on the potential legalisation of cannabis in Malaysia.

22 Mar 2024 02:28pm
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Ever since our neighbouring country, Thailand legalised the usage of cannabis in June 2022, a pressing question has been looming over Malaysia on its stance on the substance.

Solace Asia founder and addiction treatment expert Professor Dr Prem Kumar Shanmugam shared his insights on a pressing question looming over Malaysia: is the nation prepared to take the gamble and legalise cannabis?

“The issue of cannabis poses a significant concern, and it will undoubtedly escalate into a problem if left unaddressed.

“Consider this: while there are calls to ban cigarettes, there is a push to legalise cannabis. Where is the logic in this approach?” he questioned.

Prem noted that smoking, a centuries-old practice and one of the oldest forms of substance abuse, poses a contradiction in proposing to ban it while legalising cannabis.

Drawing comparisons with neighbouring countries like Thailand and Singapore, Prem presented a cautious perspective on the potential legalisation of cannabis in Malaysia.

“Thailand's decision to legalise cannabis was followed by regrets, showcasing the complexities and challenges associated with such a move.

“On the other hand, Singapore's steadfast ban on cannabis has contributed to a stable situation in the country,” he mentioned.

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Prem acknowledged these contrasting outcomes and raised pertinent questions about Malaysia's readiness for a similar step.

Professor Dr Prem Kumar Shanmugam
Professor Dr Prem Kumar Shanmugam

“While medical cannabis serves legitimate health-related purposes, the readiness of the public to accept it is debatable.

“In my view, Malaysia is not yet prepared for such a move. Before any potential legalisation, a comprehensive pre-launch plan is essential,” he emphasised.

He highlighted the need for public education initiatives and training for healthcare professionals to ensure responsible use of cannabis.

Prem also stressed the importance of understanding the distinction between medical and recreational cannabis is crucial, along with awareness of the potential for abuse, even with substances like cannabidiol (CBD), which offer undeniable benefits.

Nevertheless, he expressed scepticism about Malaysia's readiness for cannabis legalisation, citing the failed attempt in Thailand as a cautionary example.

“However, can we effectively execute such an educational campaign? Thailand's failed attempt suggests otherwise.

“Given this, I do not believe we are prepared to undertake an initiative that might meet the same fate,” he mentioned.

Drawing parallels with Singapore's approach to introducing the Marina Bay Sands Casino, Prem highlighted the importance of thorough preparation.

“For instance, when Singapore introduced the Marina Bay Sands Casino, extensive preparations were made, including nationwide surveys, public awareness campaigns, and the establishment of gambling courts.

“Locals were also subjected to a significant levy to deter excessive gambling. This example illustrates the importance of thorough preparation,” he added.

Prem suggested that Malaysia must adopt a similarly meticulous approach if it chooses to consider cannabis legalisation.

“Whether the government chooses to maintain the ban or consider legislation, it is imperative that they consult with experts and seek their insights before making any decisions,” he emphasised.