Updated on December 28, 2018. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Cambodia is considered an anomaly among countries where cannabis is illegal. While many nations enforce the ban on cultivating, possessing, selling and using marijuana, Cambodia law enforcement officials typically don’t enforce these laws. So, the country sees a widespread — and public — use of this medicine. It’s one of the many reasons why it’s critical to understand the country’s unique approach.
On paper, per the Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs of 1961, the use of medical marijuana is illegal in Cambodia. In fact, the only instance that permits medical cannabis is for scientific or medical research — but not the day-to-day treatment of chronic ailments.
The history and role of cannabis in Cambodian history, however, has led many citizens to ignore this legislation. For centuries, the plant served as a medicine, as well as an accent to cuisine, which is why its sudden banning in 1961 did not disrupt the cultural role of cannabis.
The most substantial impact of Cambodia’s medical marijuana laws on the country’s medical cannabis program is its existence. Without modifying existing legislation, the nation cannot establish a medical marijuana program, as it would violate the current laws.
As a result, medical cannabis remains unregulated. In many cases, medical marijuana programs help monitor the cultivation, production and distribution of the medication, ensuring patients receive safe, potent treatment at a suitable dosage rate. That’s not the case in Cambodia.
Due to recreational and medicinal marijuana laws in Cambodia, it’s a criminal offense to grow, produce, distribute or use cannabis in any capacity — except for approved research efforts. While it’s uncommon for officials to enforce these laws, penalties are well-established.
In fact, southeast Asia features some of the harshest punishments for marijuana. In Cambodia, offenders can receive a lifetime prison sentence, or a sentence as short as five years. Fines are also rather lofty — though they range from $25 to $250, that translates to $1 million in Cambodia’s currency, riel.
Cambodia’s existing laws are quite limiting. By banning marijuana, the country prevents the founding of a medical marijuana program, which could establish quality standards for cultivating, producing and selling cannabis. In turn, those standards would protect patients.
The legality of medical marijuana also prevents it from joining the country’s healthcare system. With its burgeoning telemedicine technology, Cambodia could connect patients with physicians from around the globe to answer questions about medical cannabis use and administration methods for improved treatments.
Unfortunately, the existing medical marijuana laws in Cambodia do not protect patients or doctors. Since both recreational and medicinal cannabis is illegal, it’s a risk for anyone to use the medicine — even though its use is prevalent throughout the country.
The lack of enforcement by officials is what protects patients and physicians, lowering the risk of fines and jail time. Cambodia’s decision to embrace, rather than eliminate cannabis use, however, emphasizes a growing need for the country to modify its existing laws and legalize marijuana.
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