Thai Legalization Advocates Rally as Government Moves Toward Cannabis Ban

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Thai Legalization Advocates Rally as Government Moves Toward Cannabis Ban

Late last week, a drug control committee approved a proposal to relist the drug as a narcotic by the end of the year.

Thai Legalization Advocates Rally as Government Moves Toward Cannabis Ban

Cannabis activists and entrepreneurs, hold cannabis plants in front of Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, July 8, 2024.

Credit: AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit

The political fight over the future of cannabis in Thailand is once again heating up after the government last week took a further step toward the reclassification of the drug as a listed narcotic. Yesterday, around a hundred cannabis legalization advocates marched to Government House in Bangkok to protest the likely reversal of the drug’s decriminalization two years ago.

The protest was organized by the Thai Cannabis Future Network, whose members marched while holding banners emblazoned with marijuana leaf motifs and bearing aloft small potted marijuana plants. The group called on the government to set up a committee to study the impacts of the plant before proceeding to relist it as a narcotic.

“A committee should study the issue. The facts should be established and laid out for the public to see,” said Prasitchai Nunual, the group’s secretary-general, the Bangkok Post reported. He added that the study should examine the drug’s impacts on physical and mental health, its therapeutic benefits, and its social impacts compared to tobacco and alcohol, all of which should be reflected in a new law governing the drug’s use.

The protest came after Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s government took a further step toward the reclassification of cannabis, just over two years after becoming the first nation in Southeast Asia to legalize the drug. On Friday, a drug control committee at the Ministry of Public Health approved a proposal to reclassify cannabis as a narcotic. The proposition is set to be submitted to the Office of the Narcotics Control Board this week. If approved, it will take effect on January 1 – in line with a previous government pledge to ban recreational marijuana use by the end of 2024.

According to a report in the Bangkok Post, the resolution “stated that cannabis and hemp are to be regarded as narcotic plants except for their branches, roots and seeds.” Marijuana buds or any other materials containing more than 0.2 percent concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, will also be reclassified as narcotics. These substances will henceforth only be permitted to be used for medical and research purposes.

“If the Office of the Narcotic Control Board agrees with our conclusion, the next step will be for the Food and Drug Administration to amend any cannabis-related laws and set up criteria for how the plants can be used,” said Dr. Surachoke Tangwiwat, deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Public Health, according to the Post. “All related laws should be amended before January 1. That is the timeframe that we are expecting for this law to take effect.”

Thailand’s decision to decriminalize marijuana in June 2022 was widely applauded by drug legalization advocates as a far-sighted step toward harm minimization, though it was never strictly intended as such. The main proponent of legalization, Anutin Charnvirakul, who served as public health minister under Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, intended to promote the plant’s medicinal use, which was legalized in 2018, and to generate a commercial industry around serving this demand.

Fatally, however, decriminalization took place before there was a law in place to regulate the use of cannabis – specifically, the conditions around its cultivation and sale. This absence of regulation led to the creation of a booming recreational marijuana industry that included hundreds of cannabis shops selling myriad strains of the plant, as well as pre-rolled joints and weed-infused gummies. This stoked a conservative hysteria about the impact of recreational marijuana use on Thailand’s youth, which became a pressing political issue in the run-up to last year’s general election.

Srettha’s Pheu Thai party campaigned on a promise to restrict recreational use of marijuana if it was elected. Shortly after taking office in September, Srettha said that the use of the drug should be restricted to medical contexts.

At yesterday’s protest, Prasitchai said that the Pheu Thai government’s push to ban the drug was motivated by ulterior motives and pledged to “expose” the alleged ties between unnamed business interests groups and leading Pheu Thai politicians. “This fight for cannabis is not only for medical security or people’s rights but also for destroying the monopoly of politicians taking (its) benefits away from the people,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

The Srettha government has so far shown no inclination to back off its campaign pledge to re-ban the drug. However, there is some merit to the call for an evidence-based regulatory approach that will avoid Thailand swinging from freewheeling, chaotic decriminalization back to a harshly punitive policy.