Dr. Wasatha Sena Weliange, the leading cannabis scholar in Sri Lanka, was arrested on Oct. 20th on cannabis cultivation charges and released on bail the next day with a court hearing set for November 11th. Despite the charges, however, he has continued to share his research materials and methods on his wildly popular social media page.
With the assistance of local farmers, Dr. Weliange was growing cannabis using traditional Sri Lankan cultivation practices for research to show the potential of cannabis as an exportable crop and wellness alternative. His research is based on the history of medicinal cannabis in Sri Lanka.
Unfortunately, Dr. Weliange, a Ph.D. in natural sciences, had all of the plants from his cultivation confiscated by the authorities, which will be used as evidence against him. Now, none of the farmers who previously assisted his research are willing to work with him again since cannabis consumption, possession, and cultivation are illegal in Sri Lanka. Currently, people caught smoking hemp wraps with cannabis can be arrested and fined.
“Technically, I will be found guilty because, under the current laws, it is illegal to cultivate cannabis. But this is a good thing – more people are talking about what we are trying to do now. This was not a failed experiment for me. We have received another opportunity now,” Dr. Weliange said in an interview with Vice News.
According to the Vice interview, cannabis is not endemic to Sri Lanka but does have a lengthy and complex history in the country. It was criminalized in 1935 while the island nation was under British Colonial Rule. In the 1960s, the country allowed special permits for Ayurvedic doctors to keep no more than two plants for medicinal marijuana consumption.
“The opposition to cannabis in the modern society still has its roots in the colonial mindset that has not changed. Those who don’t know its rich history and the medicinal value it holds in treating depression, anxiety, and other psychological, as well as physical ailments, will continue to oppose the move for its legalization,” Dr. Weliange explained.
News of Dr. Weliange’s arrest was met with displeasure from his online supporters who follow his progress on his active Facebook page (@wasanthaweliange420), which has at least one hundred thousand followers.
Another Facebook group, named after Weliange’s best-selling book on researching the history of cannabis in ancient Sri Lanka, Thriloka Wijaya Pathra, has at least 180 thousand followers. It has become the nation’s most active group of cannabis consumers.
In response to the outcries from his supporters, Weliange said, “There were attempts to protest and take to the streets, even. But that is not the point of what we are trying to do. A protest is not the correct method to achieve what we want. There is a scientific way to achieve the goal of legalization.”
Dr. Weliange’s arrest highlights the debate for cannabis legalization in Sri Lanka, which is still up in the air. The Sri Lanka Temperance Association and the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre are two leading groups that oppose the legalization of cannabis in Sri Lanka.
While he awaits a court hearing on November 11th, Dr. Weliange continues to share posts with videos and pictures about his cannabis farming methods.
The debate on whether or not to legalize cannabis for medicinal and recreational consumption is not unique to Sri Lanka, however, although it may be quite different. For instance, here in the States, the New Hampshire House Criminal Justice Committee recently rejected a bill that included the legalization of cannabis in the state.
In South Dakota, Governor Kristi Noem campaigned against establishing a medical marijuana program, which state voters approved. Earlier in the year, she stated she planned to delay implementing the program. Then, in a sudden twist of events, she displayed an ad showing that she intends to fully support the voter-approved medical marijuana program.