UN’s reclassification of cannabis as less dangerous drug won’t change Malaysian laws: Home Minister

Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin at a TV studio in November, at left. File photo of cannabis leaves, at right. Photos: Hamzah Zainuddin/Facebook, and Jeff W.
Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin at a TV studio in November, at left. File photo of cannabis leaves, at right. Photos: Hamzah Zainuddin/Facebook, and Jeff W.

Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin told reporters today that Malaysia will not change its stance towards cannabis, despite the United Nations reclassifying it as a less dangerous drug earlier this week. 

Hamzah, 63, reiterated the harsh laws pertaining possession and abuse of the drug in Malaysia in a statement to the media today, two days after a historical vote of 27 out of 53 member states led to the UN’s approval of removing cannabis and cannabis resin from the list of “highly addictive drugs.” 

“Cannabis and other products related to it remain controlled under the Dangerous Drug Act 1952,” Hamzah said. “Anyone found guilty of breaking the law will be punished accordingly.”

Those convicted of possessing cannabis in Malaysia face either a fine of up to RM20,000 (about US$5,000), jail for up to five years, or death. 

Cannabis and cannabis resin remains under Schedule I, the next strictest level of drug control. 

“As a member of the three international UN Conventions on Drugs in 1961, 1971 and 1988, Malaysia remains committed to eradicating drug-related crimes at a domestic and global level,” Hamzah added. 

The UN vote on drugs came a year after the World Health Organization recommended that cannabis be reclassified to a lower level, allowing further research for medical use. WHO also found that cannabis carries no significant risk of death in contrast to other more dangerous drugs, and has shown potential in treating pain and conditions such as epilepsy. Cannabis was previously in the Schedule IV list, which also includes other dangerous drugs such as heroin. 

Ecuador and the United States were among the countries who had supported the UN’s latest move. Japan had voted against it, saying that recreational use of marijuana “might give rise to negative health and social impacts, especially among youth”.

Malaysia’s neighboring country Singapore said yesterday it was “disappointed” by the outcome of the UN vote, with the country’s Home Affairs Ministry saying there was no “strong evidence” to support WHO’s recommendation. 

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