Sri Lanka could overcome the recession by legalising and exporting medical cannabis 

A cannabis farm in California. Cannabis had been used as a medicine to cure numerous illnesses and for many other purposes in ancient Asia. The Government has convincing evidence from the experts and published research reports, and enough support from various pressure groups, including the Ayurveda experts, to legalise it confidently


By Rajasinghe Bandara 

Minister of Trade Dr. Bandula Gunawardane has been convinced by some experts about the global demand for medical cannabis and he commented to the media cannabis export could overcome country’s recession and pay off the foreign debts by 2025. Why shouldn’t we take the great opportunity to overcome the deep recession and relieve our long-suffered nation with enormous economic hardships? 

By the end of August 2020, total outstanding external debt of the Government was $ 35.3 billion. “Sri Lanka is making arrangements to repay or roll-over 6,865 million dollars of foreign debt in 2021,” Co-Cabinet Spokesman Minister Udaya Gammanpila said. 

Cannabis, well-known in Asia as Ganja and in the West as Marijuana, had been classified globally as a harmful drug until recently mainly because of the legislations passed by our colonial masters for their own advantages. 

For example, cannabis (famously known as Ganja or Kansa in Sri Lanka) had been used as a medicine to cure numerous illnesses and for many other purposes in ancient Asia including Sri Lanka such as for food, textiles, recreational and even for sexual stimulation. But they were banned by the British governors to generate huge income for the British Empire with the alcohol and opium trade. 

But recent research in the West discovered the health benefits of Marijuana and has been legalised it in almost all developed countries across the globe for both medicinal use and recreational purposes as it is least harmful compared to alcohol and tobacco. 

Cannabis is an essential ingredient of many Ayurvedic medicines and Sri Lankan Ayurveda experts have demanded that the Government to legalise cannabis because of the significant health benefits. They say smoking cannabis does not have a bad effect on the human body.


CBD cures

It has been discovered the CBD oil extracted from cannabis plant can cure some rare form of diseases: On 25 June 2018, The US Food and Drug Administration approved Epidiolex (cannabidiol) [CBD] oral solution for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, in patients two years of age and older. This is the first FDA-approved drug that contains a purified drug substance derived from marijuana. It is also the first FDA approval of a drug for the treatment of patients with Dravet syndrome. 

CBD is a chemical component of the Cannabis sativa plant, more commonly known as marijuana. However, CBD does not cause intoxication or euphoria (the “high”) that comes from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Some research also suggests drugs containing Cannabidiol may be helpful in treating vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy, and loss of appetite and weight loss associated with HIV/AIDS. In addition, some evidence suggests modest benefits of cannabis or Cannabidiol for chronic pain and multiple sclerosis symptoms. (Source: US Department of Health and Human Services)

CBD is a chemical that impacts the brain, making it function better without giving it a high along with THC which has pain relieving properties. Both substances can be extracted and enhanced for use through short path distillation.


 Ayurvedic view

According to Ayurvedic experts, people in Asia have discovered the benefits of cannabis from primitive ages. The oldest known written record on cannabis use comes from the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in 2727 B.C. Ancient Greeks and Romans were also familiar with cannabis, while in the Middle East, use spread throughout the Islamic empire to North Africa. 

In 1545 cannabis spread to the Western hemisphere where Spaniards imported it to Chile for its use as fibre. In North America cannabis, in the form of hemp, was grown on many plantations for use in rope, sail, clothing and paper. The history of cannabis cultivation in America dates back to the early colonists, who grew hemp for textiles and rope. 

Despite all the facts and amazing benefits, cannabis cultivation in Sri Lanka has been a criminal offence since colonial era and, the police Special Task Force and the security forces have been ordered to destroy them to increase government income through legal alcohol and tobacco. Unfortunately, it was the strategy used by our colonial rulers. 


Massive demand

According to the campaigners and the experts who contributed to legalise marijuana in the West including Canada, the USA, Europe and the UK, one of the major products multiple companies are willing to buy from Sri Lanka is medical cannabis, in the form of CDB oil and hemp powder. The demand for this product has been increased fourfold in the last year.

There is a massive demand for medical cannabis on an industrial scale from all over the world including Europe, the USA, the UK, Australia and Canada. The cold countries those have legalised cannabis such as Canada, the U.K. allow farmers to grow them in greenhouses, but the products do not contain sufficient compounds/chemical substances required to produce high quality CBD products required for medicines. 

For example, the CBD oils – which have been introduced to the market ranging from 2.5% (250mg) strength to 10% (1,000mg) strength. Green house grown cannabis products, usually, do not contain required strength and the quality therefore naturally grown products would be more attractive in the market. Litre of these variants can range between $ 800 to $ 2,000 in the global market. 

Cannabis grown in natural sunlight and weather conditions is the best variety for medical use. Currently one of the main suppliers is California because they have favourable weather to grow cannabis. Cannabis generates over $ 11 billion per annum for the local economy in California and it can be easily replicated in the Sri Lankan market.


Value-added products

Cannabis can also be used to produce value added products:

Confectionery – This product can be mixed with confectionery products such as biscuits, chocolates, ice creams and many other healthy treats.

Drinks – Leaf powder, hemp powder (Seed powder after oil extraction) and CBD oil can be used in Energy drinks and various other soft drinks.

Hemp powder – Rich source of protein that is used for vegan alternative to dairy milk, proteins and the by-product of the oil extraction can be used as an additional income for manufactures.

Herbal Tea – Using dried leaf.

Supplements – developing capsules and tablets using oil and leaf powder.

Beauty products – CBD oil and leaf juice can be used in beauty products which helps to reduce wrinkles and acne.


 Commercial opportunity

 Sri Lanka has perfect climatic conditions and fertile land to grow cannabis when compared with many countries in the world. But we should not forget in some other countries in Asia, Africa also has similar climatic and weather conditions. Therefore, before it is too late President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and his Government should make a wise decision to attract the global market.  This is a market that is set to be worth over a trillion dollars in the next decade. 

Despite experts’ views about the benefits of legalising cannabis, the Government has been reluctant to do it and encouraging people to use legal alcohol and tobacco since it is one of the best sources of Government income, disregarding the serious harmful effects on the consumers. Excessive drinking of alcohol and smoking tobacco cause heart attacks, liver problems, cancer, etc. 

The Government has convincing evidence from the experts and published research reports, and enough support from various pressure groups, including the Ayurveda experts, to legalise it confidently. Therefore, it is time for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to make a wise decision for the country and Its people before it is not too late not to lose the market opportunity. Some countries in Asia already ahead of us, like India and Thailand. 

In addition to medical cannabis the Government can also consider legalising the farming for recreational purpose focusing on the export market as many countries have decriminalised Marijuana for recreational purposes. Modern technologies and surveillance systems can be used effectively to prevent people abusing the farming and the productions. 

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa briefing Parliament on 7 October 2020 said: “Our Government is considering the requests for legalising cannabis.” The Government has taken more than enough time to consider it and should not postpone making a right decision if we were to overcome the recession.

(The writer is Operations Director – MTJ Global UK, Educator and has previously worked as a lecturer of Information and Communication Technology. He is also a researcher and writer on Sri Lanka’s nature, wildlife, and the environment, and for the common good. He lives and work in the UK.)


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