Cannabis U-turn could bring protests, lawsuits

The future of thousands of cannabis dispensaries and related businesses is unclear now that the government is moving to re-criminalise the plant. (Bangkok Post File Photo)
The future of thousands of cannabis dispensaries and related businesses is unclear now that the government is moving to re-criminalise the plant. (Bangkok Post File Photo)

The government’s move to reclassify cannabis as a narcotic threatens to trigger street protests and lawsuits by owners of thousands of dispensaries that have sprung up across the country since decriminalisation two years ago.

A complete re-criminalisation ordered by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Wednesday will also push the cannabis trade underground, said Rattapon Sanrak, owner of the Bangkok-based dispensary Highland Cafe.

Thailand’s Cannabis Future, an advocacy group, said it would hold a protest against the move in Bangkok on May 16.

Cannabis currently enjoys the status of a “controlled herb” and there is no outright ban on its recreational use, which has allowed nearly 8,000 dispensaries to open since it was removed from the narcotics list in June 2022.

Mr Srettha’s plan to re-label cannabis as a Category 5 narcotic will make it a crime to “produce, sell, import, export or possess” the plant and use it, according to drug laws.

Cannabis for medical and health purposes would still be allowed, according to the PM.

“We’re all doing everything by the book but then suddenly the book is going to change,” Mr Rattapon said. “We’re gearing up to protest and preparing to file lawsuits in the event it happens.”

The policy U-turn is another blow to the country’s cannabis industry after decriminalisation was pitched as a way to boost agricultural income and wellness tourism.

The Bhumjaithai Party, which spearheaded decriminalisation, said a bill to regulate recreational use would be more effective than outlawing the plant entirely.

The most recent attempt under the Srettha government to outlaw recreational use has been stalled by the bureaucratic process. A change in ministers last week could lead to further delays.

Cannabis advocates are urging health authorities to weigh the pros and cons of cannabis in comparison to alcohol and cigarettes and use science and facts to determine what should be drugs.

“Instead of regulating the industry properly, you’re choosing to close it up and make it worse by pushing it underground,” Mr Rattapon said.

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  • advocacy: the giving of public support to an idea, a course of action or a belief - การสนับสนุน
  • agricultural (adj): of the science or practice of farming - ที่เกี่ยวกับเกษตรกรรม
  • blow: an event that damages your chances of success - สิ่งที่ทำให้เกิดความเสียหาย
  • bureaucratic: relating to government departments or officials - เกี่ยวกับระบบราชการ
  • by the book (idiom): according to the proper methods, rules and regulations - อย่างถูกต้อง, ตามระเบียบ
  • criminalise: to make some activity against the law; to make an activity criminal -
  • decriminalisation: making it not a crime or less of a crime, often to end a waste of resources consumed by putting large numbers of people in jail -
  • dispensary: the place that hands out medication and drugs to patients undergoing medical treatment in a hospital or clinic -
  • lawsuit: a case that a court is asked to decide involving a disagreement between two people or groups - คดีที่ยื่นฟ้องต่อศาล
  • narcotics: illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine or crystal methamphetamine - ยาเสพย์ติด
  • outlaw: to make illegal - ทำให้เป็นสิ่งผิดกฎหมาย
  • outright: complete and total - ขาด, ทั้งหมด,สิ้นเชิง
  • possess: to have or own something - ครอบครอง, ถือครอง
  • protest: a meeting or rally, sometimes forceful or violent, of people who strongly disagree with something - ชุมนุมประท้วง
  • recreational: involving enjoyment - เกี่ยวการสันทนาการ
  • spearhead: to begin an activity or lead an attack against somebody/something - นำหน้า
  • U-turn (noun): a complete change in policy or behaviour, usually one that is embarrassing; a turn of 180° that a vehicle makes so that it can move forwards in the opposite direction - การเปลี่ยนโดยสิ้นเชิง, การเลี้ยวหรือทางเลี้ยวเป็นรูปตัว "U"
  • underground: operating secretly and often illegally - ใต้ดิน
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