The future of cannabis for medical use is again in question, with new Public Health Minister Dr Cholnan Srikaew last week pledging to review the current cannabis policy laid by his predecessor, Anutin Charnvirakul, head of the Bhumjaithai Party (BJT).
The change comes after the rise in youth consumption of the drug for recreational purposes and the proliferation of recreational cannabis shops in big cities, some of which are located near schools.
Last week, the prime minister pledged to eliminate recreational cannabis usage within six months, saying unregulated cannabis shops have done more harm than good to tourism over the past year.
While the new government promised the review would keep cannabis for medical use, proponents of cannabis liberalisation and traditional medicine practitioners have doubts. Before June 9 last year, cannabis use had been outlawed for decades. Despite the government having permitted the use of the plant for medical purposes, access to the plant was hard, with traditional medicine practitioners and patients having to seek a permit from the public health ministry.
Before cannabis was criminalised in 1935, local people freely used it for cooking, recreational, and medical purposes. Thai use of cannabis as medicine also dates back some 300 years.
Next month, Thailand's Cannabis Future Network will send a petition letter asking the government to listen to opinions from all sides instead of medical doctors and anti-cannabis campaigning that appear to have the ears of the new public minister.
The network even asks the public health ministry to conduct comparative studies about alcohol, cigarettes and cannabis.
Prasitchai Nunual, the network leader, warned the cannabis policy under the new minister will limit the capacity of local medical practitioners and patients to develop the traditional Thai medicine industry.
Under the new policy, only the public health ministry will decide who and what is capable of handling cannabis. Mr Prasitchai warned that only cash-rich investors will control cannabis medicines that are now popular worldwide.
The government, especially Prime Minister Srettha and Health Minister Dr Cholnan, should consider differing views.
Of course, the current consumption of cannabis is unregulated and needs improving. Shops are opened on their own will, and there are no guidelines for where these shops can and cannot be located or any real effort to ensure they do not sell their products to children.
But the mess we have now is an outcome of filibustering and political plays in the previous parliament that delayed a much-needed cannabis draft bill.
The Cannabis and Hemp Control Bill was shot down in its second reading in parliament early this year. The bill contains a raft of safeguards, such as a zoning law and much stronger legal penalties.
So, instead of walking back to the past, the public health ministry and Pheu Thai-led government should just fix the obvious aspects of the problem. Lawmakers should be given a chance to revisit the draft law and decide what needs to be done for Thailand to make use of cannabis the right way.
Cannabis has enjoyed economic growth and has been used in the lucrative wellness and pharmaceutical industries. Instead of treating this useful plant as a threat to society, the government should try to find a win-win solution.