Catholic and Buddhist clerics have opposed the production and sale of the narcotic
Sri Lankan Catholics stage demonstrations to denounce drug peddlers after Sunday Mass in Colombo on March 31, 2019. (Photo: UCA News)
A Sri Lankan parliamentarian has urged the government to legalize cannabis cultivation amid protests by religious leaders.
Diana Gamage, a government lawmaker, said cannabis cultivation can solve the foreign exchange crisis by bringing in billions of dollars to the country.
"The country can be freed from debt through the legalization and export of cannabis cultivation," she said in parliament on Nov.16. "We do not have to beg or borrow money from anyone. This resource given by nature should be legalized and exported with state patronage to earn foreign exchange."
Gamage pointed out how various products such as beauty creams, toothpaste and toothbrushes are produced using cannabis around the world and said it presented “a great opportunity” in an environment where tea, rubber and coconut have lost their former place in the international market.
Some political parties like the Social Democratic Party (SDP) along with indigenous doctors had urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to legalize cannabis for self-immunization.
SDP secretary Thusitha Balasuriya had said it would be an important and revolutionary decision to be taken for the betterment of Sri Lankans.
We learned through the media that some businessmen and leaders of the underworld who deal with drugs have a good rapport with even religious leaders
Religious leaders criticized the government move last year. Ven. Ittapana Dhammalankara Thera, the chief prelate of Kotte Sri Kalayani Samagri Dharma Maha Sangha of Siyam Maha Nikaya, called for immediate action to stop the promotion of cannabis.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith issued a pastoral letter in April 2019 urging all parishes and church institutions to denounce drug peddlers. Catholic priests, nuns and laypeople organized several protest marches and rallies against the increasing abuse of illegal drugs across the island nation.
Cannabis cultivation is banned in Sri Lanka even though it is allowed to be grown in sufficient quantities for use as an Ayurvedic traditional medicine.
About 40,000 people die every year in the country due to drug abuse, alcohol consumption and smoking.
A Catholic priest who did not want to be named said cannabis was being widely promoted on social media. "We learned through the media that some businessmen and leaders of the underworld who deal with drugs have a good rapport with even religious leaders," he said.
Nimal Fernando, an activist who organizes anti-drug activities for schoolchildren, said: "We must protect people, especially children, from drug abuse. Sixty people die every day due to smoking. Fifty die because of alcohol abuse.”
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