Legalising and exporting cannabis on the cards | Sunday Observer

Legalising and exporting cannabis on the cards

13 September, 2020

Cannabis has been used for Ayurvedic medicine in Sri Lanka for centuries. As the demand for medicinal cannabis continues to grow across the world, the Government is now mulling legalising and exporting the plant.

When the Cabinet Minister of Trade, Bandula Gunawardana met the Canadian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka David McKinnon recently, the latter was seen perusing the book Trilokavijaya written by Prof. Wasantha Sena Weliange on Cannabis use and its history in Sri Lanka. The discussion between the two parties had been on the possibility of developing a market for non-traditional Sri Lankan products in Canada.

The export of medicinal cannabis can help the Sri Lankan economy, Gunawardana told the Sunday Observer. “We have found that there is a big market for cannabis in the world. We can grow it here and export,” he said.

According to the Minister, there is ongoing research on the medicinal use of cannabis. “We are also coordinating with the Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC) to carry out research. Cannabis is said to be used in medicinal products to treat cancer, autism, parkinson’s and other neurological ailments.” he added. Though cannabis is used for ayurvedic treatment in the country, growing the plant for recreational use is illegal.

Accordingly, cannabis cultivation and use is prohibited by the Poisons, Opium and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance of Sri Lanka. It has been classified as a dangerous drug at international conventions dealing with drugs – The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 and the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988. Opinion is divided over the use of the plant.

A committee has been formed by the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) to research on the matter after the topic had given rise to public debate recently. According to the Editor of the GMOA, Dr Haritha Aluthge, the report by the committee led by Dr Thanuja Mahesh on its findings will be submitted to the Association in two weeks.

According to long time activist for the legalisation of cannabis, Prof. Wasantha Sena Weliange, cannabis should be legalised in Sri Lanka.

“Cannabis should be legalised. There is no question about it. Over 60 countries make use of cannabis products; we are the last in this race,” he said.

Following his book ‘Trilokavijaya’ on the use of cannabis Weliange will release yet another publication soon on policies on cannabis which he believes should be introduced to Sri Lanka.

“My new book looks at policies favourable for cannabis cultivation,” he said. Weliange said cannabis is not only used for its medicinal properties but also has other uses as well.

“Cannabis can be used in different ways. For medicine, to manufacture paper, cosmetics, oil and fibre for garments. On the other hand, it is used for recreation, such as cigarettes and alcohol. But how can we use a product that gives us satisfaction as a medicine or a raw material for industrial purposes? How can we grow it without conflicts? Different varieties of cannabis give us different products. For example the plant we grow to produce fibre for clothes cannot be used to derive pleasure,” he said.

“The oil we produce from cannabis seeds can be used to manufacture cosmetic products. White light oil that is imported is a byproduct of petroleum. We could stop importing it, if cannabis cultivation is legailsed,” he said.

Weliange said, however, cannabis cultivation must be promoted in a proper way. “My book looks at how this can be achieved. We also have to legalise cannabis in the right way,” he said.

Though the Government is considering legalising the cultivation only for exports, Weliange and many others believe that it should also be legalised for local use, other than for medicinal purposes.

For nearly 10 years, Gihan Indika has used cannabis for recreational purposes. “We can buy cannabis from anywhere now. It is freely available and many young people are using it,” he said. According to him, as a first time user, he was surprised as to how easily he can get cannabis. But he said that some cannabis sold could be harmful as they are laced with certain substances.

As for legalising the plant locally, Indika said it could lead to the creation of more issues in drug use. “I would like it to be legalised, but that will create more issues. I have not met anyone who is addicted to cannabis but familiarisation with the drugs could lead people to go for more harmful substances, such as cocaine. Who could stop them once the wheel starts rolling,” he said.

Since the beginning of the public debate on the issue, opposing views have been expressed on the issue. Adminstration and Finance Director at the Alcohol and Drug Information Center (ADIC) Sampath De Seram is critical of the move.

“The biggest issue that we see in the country now is the attempt to legalise cannabis. Bandula Gunawardena is lobbying for it. He is backed by clergy, artistes, and even lecturers. With experience I can say that, if legalised, it will lead to a major issue in the country,” he said.

De Seram said that there are many social media accounts which promote the use of cannabis claiming health and economic benefits.

“They are presenting a convincing argument that is not backed by facts. They say it has medicinal properties and is used in various products. But that is just a little. We can use what the police raid daily to meet the demand” he said.

According to De Sarem, there are around 300, 000 cannabis users in the country. “This number will increase, if it is legalised,” he said.

“We, at the ADIC, try to educate people about the risks of legalising cannabis, and in return, we are threatened. Some social media users abuse us with foul language. But we have to say what is true. Legalising cannabis was never a good idea.

“Sri Lanka is now at a better place than its neighbours. There was a spike in illegal drug related incidents and this is mostly because these cases are publicised by the media,” he said.

The Sri Lanka Medical Associations (SLMA) in a statement this week opposed moves to legalise cannabis. “We are concerned about statements to promote cannabis cultivation,” the release stated.

“There is a process to provide cannabis to licensed Ayurvedic Practitioners by the Ayurvedic Department and the Government Administrative Network. There is no need to legalise the cultivation,” it stated. It added that if cultivation is allowed, there will be leakage of cannabis to the people.