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Thailand’s days of a cannabis free-for-all are numbered

Cannabis Thailand
Will Cannabis continue to be freely available for recreational use?

In Thailand, the issue of cannabis has become a major topic of debate among the country’s political parties. Last June’s decriminalisation of cannabis for medicinal and seemingly-recreational purposes has been a divisive issue, with different parties taking different stances.

The core issue, as Thais prepare to go to the polls for a May general election, is that only one of the political parties support the status-quo – Bhumjaithai, the original authors of the decriminalisation last year. Amidst opposition to recreational use of cannabis from ALL other political parties, it is unlikely that there is a future for Thailand’s current reputation as Asia’s Amsterdam.

Politically, Bhumjaithai would have to double its current number of MPs to be a strong enough voice in a new coalition government. That’s unlikely.

The Pheu Thai party, the political party most likely to attract the largest number of primary votes, has taken a strict stance against recreational cannabis use, with its deputy leader Sutin Klungsang stating that the party plans to restrict the use of marijuana to medical and research purposes only. Sutin declared that if Pheu Thai forms the next government, it will take charge of the Public Health Ministry and clamp down on the current recreational-use free-for-all.

On the other hand, the Bhumjaithai Party, which currently oversees the Public Health Ministry as a partner in the ruling coalition, has made the legalisation of marijuana its core election policy. The party has steered a course for decriminalising marijuana and promoting it as a cash crop for the grassroots, among other purposes.

As of March 5, more than 1.38 million people in Thailand had registered as cannabis growers. However, a legal vacuum exists when it comes to the use of cannabis, as the hemp and marijuana regulation bill has been voted down five times in Parliament. And that parliament will be dissolved in the next 2 weeks making way for an early May election.

With any new government formed after the election, the absolute earliest a new Cannabis Bill could be discussed would be August or September this year.

The Democrat Party is supportive of medical marijuana but not free trade in the herb, or recreational use. Party MP Dr Banyat Chetanachan believes that the current legal vacuum has created ripe conditions for exploitation of the marijuana market. He thinks that the Public Health permanent secretary and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chief should set up a centre to assess all impacts, and then the Narcotics Control Board could issue a new decision based on the information gathered.

In his opinion, the party should prepare three new bills – one for medical marijuana, another for the use of hemp, and a third for the use of marijuana for non-medical purposes. Banyat suggests letting the public debate the last bill and the next government take the lead from the result of any debate.

The Move Forward Party, Thailand’s most ‘progressive’ party and an offshoot of the now disbanded Future Forward Party, believes cannabis should be relisted as a narcotic, according to leader Pita Limjaroenrat. He thinks the public should still be able to access marijuana’s benefits through certain laws that limit the herb’s uses.

However, cannabis should definitely be categorised as a narcotic to protect members of the public. He thinks that if cannabis is not considered a narcotic, then the Public Health Ministry will have to take charge of enforcing laws related to the herb, which it does not have the resources or personnel to do.

If cannabis were to be relisted as an illicit drug, the police and the Office of the Narcotics Control Board could take charge of enforcing the law. Pita notes that this move would damage some marijuana businesses, and the new government should come up with remedies to help them, such as buying up all their cannabis stock for use in the medical industry.

Many people have set up retail businesses and even invested large amounts in new plantations on the false assumption that all uses of cannabis were now legal in Thailand since last year’s June 9 delisting of cannabis as a Category 5 narcotic. But a Bill to properly regulate the decriminalisation never passed the Thai parliament into law.

Bhumjaithai is vowing not to backtrack on the decriminalisation of marijuana, which it views as having good value that can be utilised for several purposes, including driving economic growth. Party-list MP Suphachai Jaismut stated that if people vote for the party this time, it will make sure a new cannabis bill is not blocked – a situation it was unable to deliver in the current parliament.

Public Health Minister and Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul has pointed out that the Narcotics Control Board, which is chaired by Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, approved the removal of cannabis from the country’s narcotics list, and hence there was no reason to backtrack.

His slogan for the election is “Yes to Free Trade on Marijuana. Let’s use it for medicine, health and the economy.”

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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