“It’s either cannabis or die”
Cannabis use in Malaysia is strictly prohibited. Penalties can range from simple lashings to the death penalty. Five years in jail are applied for possessing 50 grams. But if you are arrested for possessing 200 grams, then you must expect death penalty.
Malaysian society doesn’t like the use of cannabis. Only in big cities is possible to find the plant.
A young man who gave away small bottles of cannabis oil to an ill friend, has been given death penalty in Malaysia. This country, which has Muslim-majority, has opened certain debate about its ultra hard drug laws.
Before going ahead, it’s important to explain certain aspects of the story. A woman named Yuki turned to ganja at 29 and after a frustrating search to get something that could alleviate her tremendous chronic and crippling pain from the disease called hypokalaemia (low blood potassium). After too many years suffering, she saw in Google the different properties cannabis had to ease pain. Before she tried ganja, Yuki used different opiates to deal with the pain. No need to say opiates are dangerous, because it is easy to get over-dose, and addictive.
It all began in early 2000. At that time, public debate of medical cannabis didn’t exist in this country, which has one of the world harshest drug laws. Growing a single cannabis plant is punished with life sentence and possession of 200 grams results in death penalty.
Yuki, who is now 41, was desperate and decided to try it. She bought some weed and asked her husband to roll a joint. “All the pain was gone so finally I could sleep. I slept like a baby” she says. Moreover, when she woke up the next morning, she devoured a large meal of curry and rice. She asked her husband to roll another joint and, for the first time in years, she felt able to doing the house chores. “I had two growing kids at that time, one was nine years old, and the other was 11. The two of them needed my attention but I could not give it to them because I was so sick” she explains.
After too many years using opiates to deal with tremendous pain, she felt free. After this, Yuki became an activist for medical cannabis. She doesn’t care being in jail. “It’s either cannabis or die”.
Last August, 29-year-old Muhammad Lukman, a friend of Yuki’s, was sentenced to death. Even though more than 900 people are on death row in Malaysia for drug crimes, Lukman’s case has been seen by international lawmakers as a disproportionate punishment.
Few years before, Yuki had begun to use cannabis oil instead of smoking. Young Lukman, who was her friend, used to sell her small dropper bottles of THC extracts. The police caught him when he was giving away the bottles to Yuki, and after the trial, he was given death penalty.
Lukman’s lawyers tried to present him as a nice person and pious Muslim who helped people who suffered from severe pain, giving them away oil when they could not afford the payment; something that happened to Yuki. Fortunately, the case has prompted several calls trying to convince the Malaysian government to become the first country in Asia to legalize medical cannabis. But being Malaysia a very conservative Muslim country, any potential change is going to come very slowly; if it comes..
Thousands of people have signed a petition to abolish death penalty for drug crimes. Thanks to the pressure, even Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, said the case should be reviewed. The government cabinet has begun to discuss the potential medical benefits of cannabis. Last October, Mr Mahathir’s reform-minded government said he was going to abolish the death penalty. However, those who are in prison for drug crimes, like Lukman, can spend in jail many decades or even their whole life.
Lukman’s case is not the only one watched by activists. Mohammed Zaireen bin Zainal, who founded the Malaysian Marijuana Education Movement, is on the cruel death row.
Cannabis and Muslim religion
Cannabis is a controversial issue among Muslim people. In fact, the holy book Koran, says little about it. While some Muslim considers that cannabis is “halal” (permissible) others think cannabis is a dangerous narcotic. Some Muslim-majority countries have the harshest penalties for drug crimes. However, followers of Sufism, an important movement in Islam, consume cannabis as part of their rituals as a way to reach higher states of consciousness.
But most Islamic scholars consider that cannabis has intoxicating effects and, therefore, it is “haram”, religiously forbidden. They cite the words of Muhammad who said: “If much intoxicates, then even a little is haram”. These scholars say that since cannabis alters our consciousness, it must be forbidden and considered a sin. In countries such as Saudi Arabia you can be given death penalty for cannabis dealing.
State and religious authorities are very conservative in many Muslim countries, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Malaysia. They have some of the toughest punishments for cannabis. However, it seems that the attitude towards cannabis has change over time and before this era, many countries were very permissive.