Facing up to dope changes
Delays to the second reading of the cannabis and hemp bill are just disheartening. Instead of giving the bill a chance, MPs, most of them from the Democrat and Pheu Thai parties, on Tuesday voted to suspend debate at the second reading. The bill now goes back to the committee that has already spent three months revising the bill, for another round of changes.
The House of Representatives voted 198 to 136 with 12 abstentions to withdraw the bill for improvements despite objections from the Bhumjaithai Party which sponsored the legislation. The bill authorises the use of cannabis and hemp for medical and research purposes.
The move is surprising because a few months ago, MPs overwhelmingly gave this bill the nod at the first reading. In normal practice, MPs often debate and rewrite the bill in the second and third reading before sending it to the Upper House for a final reading.
Democrat MP Satit Wongnongtoey, who heads the movement among MPs to stonewall the measure, said lawmakers viewed its contents as "loose", meaning the bill could expose youths to dangers. MPs from both parties urged Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul to put cannabis back on the narcotics list, a move which could criminalise over a million cannabis growers, farmers and investors.
A group of doctors and networks of parents has also submitted a petition asking the Public Health Ministry to revise the law making ganja a narcotic again, a status it had since the late 1960s, until moves began recently to decriminalise it.
It is highly unusual for legislators to vote down a bill at the second and third reading. The suspension usually means the proposed legislation has been sent to the freezer. Chada Thaiset, a Bhumjaithai MP for Uthai Thani, said there might not be enough time to push it through during this parliament, which ends in March next year.
That means that society will have to wait longer, if not indefinitely, to get a better legal mechanism to control cannabis.
To date, the government has used organic laws such as public health regulations and controls over traditional herbs to govern the harvest and consumption of cannabis for medical purposes or in food. Existing laws are workable but far from perfect. The much-awaited bill would give better protection.
The bigger question remains: Why did these MPs decide to scuttle the bill at the eleventh hour? The cannabis policy has been in action for two years and decriminalising it has been underway since June.
Over a million people have grown cannabis, investors in wellness and food have put money into its development, and academic institutes and researchers have launched projects to reap various benefits.
Nevertheless, the cannabis policy has caused worry in society and there are reports about its misuse, especially among teenagers and school students.
No matter how divisive this cannabis policy is, the solution is not to pull the bill. Instead of trying to turn back the clock, MPs and all stakeholders must work together to plug legal loopholes, creating preventive measures such as zoning and imposing restrictions to allow beneficiaries to tap the benefits and protect the vulnerable.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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