VIENTIANE, March 20 (Xinhua) -- The Lao government has given a green light to debate and study the possibility of using marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The Prime Minister's Office last week issued an announcement entrusting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and other sectors to organize a seminar to discuss and study the medical use of marijuana, local daily Vientiane Times reported on Wednesday.
Outcomes of the seminar discussion will be reported to the government as a reference for the next decision, the government spokesman Chaleun Yiapaoher told Vientiane Times on Tuesday.
The government's permission to the discussion on medicinal marijuana came after the Ministry of Health submitted a proposal to build a hospital to treat cancer patients with the use of traditional medicines extracted from natural herbs and marijuana.
Under Lao legislation, the cultivation, trade and use of marijuana are still prohibited for now.
The government has told Lao relevant sectors to learn from many countries that allow use or research of marijuana for medical purposes.
Deputy Director General of the Department of Healthcare and Rehabilitation under the Ministry of Health Bounnack Saysanasongkham said, there were news reports suggesting that some western countries legally use marijuana for treatment of some diseases.
"The cultivation and use (of marijuana in those countries) have been strictly controlled," he said, adding that use for treatment has to be certified by medical doctors.
Chaleun said the permission to start the debate over marijuana is still at the early stage, saying there is a need to carry out a thorough study before the government could make a decision.
If the findings of the study were positive and the government decided to go ahead, approval would still need to be sought from the Lao People's Revolutionary Party Politburo and the National Assembly.
Current legislation that prohibits the cultivation and use of marijuana has to be amended if Laos legalizes medicinal marijuana.
While Laos is undertaking a study and the plant is still prohibited, the Prime Minister's Office told the Ministries of National Defence, Public Security and provinces to keep a close eye on preventing the cultivation and trade of marijuana.