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Weed exports: Is Sri Lanka ready?

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 15 September 2017 00:00

Sri Lanka will establish a 100-acre farm in Ingiriya to farm cannabis to ensure high quality supplies for the indigenous medicine industry as well as for lucrative exports to the US market, the Government announced this week. Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne has assured the farm would be under heavy military security and would farm weed of higher quality.  

Even with the potential side effects, more and more research is showing that cannabis is a safer option to treat pain than many of the prescription pill options currently available. Canada, which has legalised the use of medical marijuana nationwide, allows its export and import for limited purposes. This could, for instance, include shipping unique strains to a research lab abroad or bringing in starter plants for new grows. Some US states along with a few countries such as Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland and Israel too allow the use of medical marijuana.

The sudden surge of interest in medical marijuana was spurred by nearly half of the states in the US passing legislation to legalise medicinal marijuana — in spite of the fact that marijuana is still considered a schedule 1 drug alongside cocaine and heroin at the federal level. However, mainstream, family-friendly businesses like Walgreens is promoting use of medical pot and it is fast becoming clear that the stigma from the “Reefer Madness” days has all but subsided in popular American culture.

This change of heart is not lost on the rest of the world. Israel’s fast-growing cannabis industry has high hopes for exports of medical marijuana to America. The country is already a leading supplier of pharmaceuticals to the US and its Government, scientists and companies are working together to turn the once-illicit drug into a booming new medical business.

With conservative rabbis giving the okay for medical marijuana use, and the Government adopting a relaxed stance, investment in cannabis production has exploded. The industry is being pushed by Israel’s Ministry of Health, which is trying to take the morality out of weed. The number of people in Israel being treated with cannabis has soared from a few dozen 10 years ago to about 23,000 in 2015. 

That’s still tiny compared to the size of the US market for legal cannabis, which could be worth $22 billion by the end of the decade, according to industry data analysts New Frontier. Other pharmaceutical producing countries such as Colombia have also decided to legalise marijuana to increase exports of legal weed. 

Cannabis is a banned substance in Sri Lanka with over 50,000 kilos nabbed annually by anti-narcotics officials each year. It is also responsible for the most number of arrests, usually about 25,000 people, and drug convictions make up more than 30% of Sri Lanka’s entire prison population. Sri Lanka also has thousands of people suffering from chronic pain and diseases such as cancer where the use of medical marijuana can be used as treatment. As the world re-examines drug policies, Sri Lanka will have to do its own soul searching to decide what its laws towards drugs should be and their severity. The Government has not made any statement that it will consider legalisation at any level, but it will enter the discourse if the Health Minister’s plans take off. Is Sri Lanka ready for its next battle on a nation’s morality?

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