S’wak govt keen on hemp research but needs green light from authorities

A hemp plant (file photo) Photo credited to Outlook - Releaf Medical Cannabis.

By Lian Cheng

KUCHING, Dec 2: The Sarawak government is very much interested in industrial hemp research despite multiple hurdles faced such as obtaining permission from relevant ministries and enforcement agencies.

According to a written reply from the Sarawak government, hemp research has sparked interest in Sarawak especially following a 2018 “International Scientific Conference on Indigenous Crops” organised by University Putra Malaysia Bintulu Campus and the Education, Science and Technological Research Ministry.

There was a session that involved a roundtable discussion on “Understanding Hemp: Beyond the Potentials and Misconceptions” and the panel consisted of potential stakeholders from policymakers, law enforcement, industrial players, researchers (local and international and academics).

On the subject, it was concluded during the discussion that investors who are keen to cultivate hemp in Sarawak should carry out small-scale research and suitability studies on hemp as the first approach.

The written reply was in response to some unanswered questions posed to Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg at “A Sunday Morning with CM: Dialogue Session with Young Entrepreneurs in Sarawak” organised by DayakDaily on Sept 28 this year.

Due to the constraints of time which caused many questions unanswered, DayakDaily has forwarded the questions that were yet to be answered to the relevant authorities who came back with the answers recently.

The young entrepreneur asking the question on hemp research pointed out that the world has witnessed rapid advancement in cannabis-related research in developing countries, which has led to the development of a vast number of cannabis products.

“The industry’s revenue amounts to billions of dollars, especially with medical cannabis, as it has proven to be a reliable alternative in curing cancer and severe cases of childhood epilepsy.

“Relatedly, along these lines, the (former) Malaysian Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Zulkefly Ahmad stated in a press statement in 2019, that ‘hemp cultivation under Section 6B(2) of Dangerous Drug Act which dictates that type of herbal plant from the Cannabis sativa species is allowed for purposes of industrial research,” said the young entrepreneur during the event.

She raised the questions – “Can the discussions surrounding industrial hemp research spark Sarawak’s interest to lead cannabis medical research; in which it would entail federal law reform? Will Sarawak capture and sustain market share by potentially becoming one of the industrial giants in Asia for hemp product manufacturing?”

In answer to the questions raised, the Sarawak government pointed out that research activities can be conducted in collaborations with local and federal agencies, which are University Malaysia Sarawak and Sarawak Department of Agriculture.

“However, prior to this, approval must be obtained from the Ministry of Health Malaysia, to conduct the research, as required under the Dangerous Drugs Act.

“In addition, further consultation and discussion with relevant agencies especially the policymakers, that is, Royal Malaysian Police, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Science, Technological Research Sarawak and other related institutions will need to be carried out,” said the Sarawak government.

The Sarawak government held that a few key factors needed to be taken into consideration while looking into industrial hemp research. One of them is to understand what activities are permitted and what is not permitted by the law.

It also takes into consideration the current competition in the hemp industry especially among the big producers such as China (accounting for more than 70 per cent of the world output), France and Canada.

“Our research and development should focus on areas that will give us the competitive edge over these countries in order for us to have a significant foothold in this industry,” said the Sarawak government.

Understanding the differences between hemp (non-intoxicant) and marijuana (psychoactive) and the concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) between the two biotypes is also a factor that the Sarawak government needs to seriously look into.

For the information of the readers, Cannabis is a broader classification that contains both hemp plants and marijuana plants. Hemp and marijuana differ in their chemistry and characteristics. Hemp plants contain low levels of intoxicating phytocannabinoid known as Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and a high level of the non-intoxicating phytocannabinoid Cannabidiol (CBD) while marijuana contains high THC. — DayakDaily

Photo credited to Outlook – Releaf Medical Cannabis.