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Review Lukman’s death penalty for medical marijuana

  • The challenge for Malaysia, which still imposes capital punishment for some drug trafficking offences, is how to draft new laws that are specific enough to differentiate marijuana for medical as opposed to recreational and other uses.

By Khoo Ying Hooi

The recent death penalty handed to a 29-year-old Lukman has caused public outrage and triggered robust talks to legalize marijuana for medical use in the country.

Lukman was arrested in December 2015 along with his wife during a raid at this home for the possession of 3.1 liters of cannabis oil, 279 grams of compressed cannabis, 1.4kg of substance containing tetrahydrocan nabinol (THC).

While his wife was released for innocence, Lukman was handed a death sentence for possessing, processing and distributing cannabis oil this year.

According to Lukman’s lawyer, he reportedly gave this alternate medication to approximately 800 people who were suffering from ailments and that Lukman has no intention to distribute or deal cannabis on the streets to for consumption of the masses.

A petition via Change.org has been created since then in order to seek to justice for Lukman.

Malaysia is one of the 53 countries that are still practice the death penalty. Under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 (DDA), individuals caught possessing 200 grams or more of cannabis, will be charged under drug trafficking, which carries the death penalty.

While I have came across the news reporting related to medical marijuana in other part of the world, but I have not been paying particular attention on the case of Lukman, until the day when a journalist friend from The Star alerted me the urgency of his case.

As widely reported by The Star, few ministers such as the Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Dr. Xavier Jayakumar and also Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad have also raised concern on this issue.

Mahathir is quoted of saying that, "It will take a bit of encouragement and convincing as far as this topic is concerned… 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."

Up to today, there remains controversial debate on the rational of legalizing medical marijuana. The usage of medical marijuana is a widely debated issue across the world. Many might consider it as a taboo topic, especially for those who have never been exposed to this marijuana.

Is marijuana helpful for acute pain?

At a recent press conference, for now, the Ministry of Health said that it has insufficient data to support the use of cannabis oil to treat patients.

While scientists argue over the quality of the evidence whether medical marijuana can actually cure chronic pain and sickness, for the case of Lukman, at least for now, the focus is on overturning a death sentence handed to a man convicted of possessing, processing and distributing medicinal cannabis oil as there is a potential of miscarriage of justice as also highlighted by Permatang Pauh Member of Parliament Nurul Izzah.

But here’s the thing: despite the law currently prohibiting any form of cannabis, there are people who obtain and use it. These individuals are between a legal channel and a personal hard decision, that is, either they obey the law and physically suffer, or violate the law but to be able to obtain relief from their suffers.

The challenge for Malaysia, which still imposes capital punishment for some drug trafficking offences, is how to draft new laws that are specific enough to differentiate marijuana for medical as opposed to recreational and other uses.

Mahathir has said the matter that has since been labelled, as a miscarriage of justice should be reviewed, and if there was ever a time to enact successful drug policy reform, now is that time.

Ultimately, the death penalty is wrong because by sentencing someone to death, you are basically denying his or her right to life. It is more so in the case of Lukman that is caught in between debates over the effectiveness of cannabis oil that are widely argued.

(Khoo Ying Hooi is Universiti Malaya Senior Lecturer)

 

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