Let’s have proper debate on the medical worth of cannabis, not another junta thrill ride aboard Article 44
Deputy Prime Minister ACM Prajin Juntong is looking at the possibility of using Article 44 of the Constitution to fast-track a legal amendment approving the medical use of marijuana. The
junta-led government wants to make sure the amendment gets through the National Legislative Assembly before its tenure ends early next year.
The reason for the haste is not clear, since most politicians will by now be amenable to the idea and the legalisation of medical marijuana is likely to be endorsed no
matter who is in power. But there has been speculation that the junta wishes to burnish its legacy with a progressive move, and if that requires invoking Article 44 yet again – the whip it has so often wielded for repressive purposes – then it could be used.
The government sanctioned research on cannabis for medical use about a year ago. The results of that research are now ready to be tested on human subjects, but certain legal obstacles must first be overcome. This is where Prajin comes in, in his capacity as Justice minister, and Article 44, with its supra-legal power to clear the path for the new legislation. But the wisdom of using Article 44 is always in question.
Marijuana’s efficacy in the treatment of certain medical conditions has been proved elsewhere and little doubt remains about the benefits, and yet there is still debate over making it more accessible, even for medical purposes. That, say critics, opens a slippery slope to legal recreational use. The government insists that cannabis will only be legalised for medicinal purposes.
The junta should set aside its
legislative whip and instead lay the groundwork for further discussion on the issue. It must hear out the people who disagree with any loosening of the ban on marijuana and take their voices into consideration before proceeding further. If science is not on their side, then faith might be. Opponents of cannabis often cite moral values and regard its use as a sin that should not be tolerated in a Buddhist society. That cigarettes and alcohol, which appear more harmful that marijuana, are sold under specific regulations to be consumed legally makes no difference, they say. Why legalise another vice?
On the other hand, of course, we are seeing proof that marijuana has medical benefits and we know the cultivation of hemp – marijuana without the psychoactive elements – could be a boon to industry in several ways. There is also the reasonable argument that, if citizens enjoy the effects of marijuana, they should be allowed to buy and consume it legally, just as smokers and boozers are free to pursue other forms of intoxication. Opponents must
abandon the dated and disproved notion that marijuana users will invariably end up addicted to heroin.
The Office of Narcotics Control Board is currently preparing a report for government consideration on the pros and cons of legalising medical marijuana. Its recommendations should reach policymakers next week. They need to evaluate the ramifications with open minds and not let themselves be swayed by either proponents or opponents, even as they hear them out. The dialogue will take some time, but there is no need to rush. And there’s no need either for us to again witness the spectre of Article 44.