Riding the waves of the pot rush

Riding the waves of the pot rush

Daycha Siripatra, founder of the Khaokwan Foundation, would have remained largely unknown had the police and anti-narcotics officials not raided the foundation's premises in Suphan Buri province and seized 200 cannabis plants, some marijuana extract, oil and seeds.

They also arrested senior foundation member Pornchai Choolert and charged him with illegally cultivating and possessing marijuana.

At the time of the April 3 raid, Mr Daycha was in Laos running a workshop on organic farming -- but he became a celebrity overnight as his supporters launched the #SaveDecha campaign, which went viral online.

Mr Daycha has been researching medical marijuana for over a decade, and for five years, the foundation has distributed marijuana extracts to cancer patients.

He is a prominent and respected figure, and the Khaokwan Foundation is the torchbearer on organic and sustainable farming in Thailand as well as in the Greater Mekong region.

The public outcry against the raid may have played a part in forcing the Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) to make a U-turn on its decision, as the agency said on Thursday it would drop all charges against Mr Pornchai.

Another obvious reason for the sudden change is that the arrest itself was not legitimate right from the start. The revised Narcotics Act gives those who possess marijuana for medical purposes a 90-day amnesty period that expires on May 19, so the raid was not justified.

As for me, the raid shows that our latest law to promote the use of marijuana use for medical purposes is unrealistic.

Last year, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) passed the revised Narcotics Act to promote the bio-economy by recognising the value of marijuana and Thai traditional medicine.

The move won praise, though some critics -- including Mr Daycha and other medical marijuana advocates, and even politicians like Anutin Charnvirakul, head of the Bhumjaithai Party -- pointed out that the revised law gave the state excessive power to decide who will be allowed to conduct research, use and even trade in medical marijuana and its extracts. These critics warned the law would result in a monopoly by big pharmaceutical companies.

In my opinion, the revised narcotics law reflects a prohibitionist mindset, fanned by fears that full liberalisation of ganja will breed a generation of pot heads. That type of law will prevent Thailand from rising to the occasion to take full advantage of the "Green Rush" -- a term coined to describe the boom in the use of marijuana over the past few years, both as a recreational drug and a new elixir for medical treatments.

Countries around the world -- even the US, which had been a staunch supporter of criminalising the crop -- have begun to legalise marijuana. In some countries, such as Canada as well as some states in the US including Colorado, people can grow and sell cannabis as a cash crop.

The use of marijuana is becoming more widely accepted, whether we like it or not. Even Starbucks is reportedly toying with the idea of launching a line of marijuana-infused drinks. As such, we should embrace the Green Rush, because Thailand is poised to reap great benefits from the changing tide.

The country's terroir is known to be ideal for cannabis cultivation -- in fact, Thai-grown strains have been dubbed as the "Cuban Cigars of the Marijuana World". But Thailand's potential extends beyond the quality of its cannabis, as Thailand has the know-how to utilise the extracts.

Thai traditional medicine is a vast body of knowledge that contains numerous marijuana-based concoctions that are believed to be able to cure diseases such as cancers and Alzheimer's, to name a just a few, as hundreds of concoctions list cannabis as an ingredient. So, you can imagine how much benefit the country and patients stand to reap, as well as the amount of money that can be saved and earned, if Thai traditional medicine becomes a viable and affordable alternative to treat serious diseases.

However, to ride the wave of the Green Rush, the government must fully liberalise the use of marijuana in the medical sector, by allowing researchers to grow and harvest cannabis at their own will. Otherwise, both researchers and patients will have to depend on supplies from state-permitted harvesters, or imported products.

And for those who fear pot heads, the government and the ONCB can use its registry to ensure the substance remains in the medical supply chain. That mechanism, however, must also be handled by other stakeholders, not just state officials. During the Green Rush, what we should be afraid of aren't pot heads, but policy makers and law enforcement officers who keep their heads buried in the sand.

Anchalee Kongrut is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

Anchalee Kongrut

Assistant News Editor

Bangkok Post's Assistant News Editor

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