Vested interests behind ‘legalise cannabis’ move - CCT | Daily News

Vested interests behind ‘legalise cannabis’ move - CCT

Certain elements are working hard to get the use and cultivation of cannabis legalised when tobacco use among the young is on the wane after prohibitive taxes and tougher laws.

Center for Combating Tobacco (CCT) Director Dr. Mahesh Rajasuriya said some organized groups with vested interests are trying to create a lobby to legalise cannabis cultivation in the country. He said some organized groups of persons were attempting to popularise and legalise ganja (Cannabis) in Sri Lanka as legal tobacco sales are falling at a drastic rate due to high taxes and a sustained anti-smoking drive. “Those who are calling for the legalisation of the narcotic state that the plant has been legalised in many countries therefore Sri Lanka too should follow that example. According to them cannabis could be converted into a cash crop to be exported so that Sri Lanka could earn foreign exchange, Dr. Rajasuriya said.

He said that only two out of over 193 UN member countries and some states in a few other countries had legalized the cannabis for recreational use. “We have observed that cigarette production in the country dropped by around 65 percent during 2010 to 2019. The figure we had in 2019 has now decreased by 17 percent thanks to the government-led tougher action on tobacco industry. The anti-tobacco campaign not only protected communities by saving lives and preventing suffering from tobacco related harm but also helped people save money. So we suspect that certain parties are trying to popularise cannabis to cover up losses incurred by the drop of cigarette sale,” Dr Rajasuriya said.

He said that the only hurdle blocking those sinister elements is the current legislations declaring cannabis an illicit narcotic. There have been several news items on print and social media calling for the legalising of cannabis in Sri Lanka. In most of that news, some parties are trying to create an opinion that cannabis is an essential ingredient in preparation of a large number of Ayurveda medicine. According to some Facebook posts the use of cannabis could give many health benefits.

“Those are fabricated lies. The fabrication is done by showing the use of cannabis as a herbal ingredient in some traditional medicines. That is done according to medical practices and with the permission of government agencies. In addition to that there has been a legal procedure where the licensed ayurvedic medicine producers could obtain cannabis needed for their production. There is no need of legalizing the cultivation of the plant for that purpose. Such an action would amount to something like opening floodgates of the narcotic so that our younger generation will suffer irrevocable damage,” Dr. Rajasuriya said.

Dr. Rajasuriya said that the CCT was planning to inform relevant authorities to take action against publications and facebook posts promoting the use of cannabis. “Promoting a banned substance in media is an offence. Law should be implemented against those who promote a banned substance,” he said.

He said that Cannabis cultivation and use is prohibited by the Poison, Opium and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance of Sri Lanka. It is also classified as a dangerous drug in international conventions such as the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 and the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988.

Dr. Rajasuriya said that many concerned citizens and religious leaders campaigned to get the governments and health authorities to introduce tougher regulations such as introduction of pictorial warnings on cigarette packets. In addition there had been many efforts to see that the government should increase taxes on tobacco and alcohol. We know that some businessmen behind these industries now have been badly hit in their profits. We also know that they are experimenting with the idea of getting cannabis based products to supplement their lost profits. The main hindrance they see before them is the legal status of the plant in the country. We have information that some multinational companies funding experiments of introducing electronic smoking devices to smoke cannabis. Alcohol and beverage producers are experimenting to introduce cannabis-laced drinks to the market. So when their lackeys get the laws amended their products are market ready.

“We urge the government not to fall prey for the campaigns of several businessmen. We know that there are over 300,000 people already addicted to cannabis smoking in this country. If the laws amended to legalize the narcotic plant we cannot imagine what would be the consequences. There are many bad health impacts of cannabis including mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia, and serious lung ailments. It also badly affects brain development in youth and has also been associated with self-harm and suicide as well as road traffic accidents. We hope that sanity will prevail and the government would do the right thing,” Dr Rajasuriya said.