Keep hemp free of cannabis law

Keep hemp free of cannabis law

The controversial bill to regulate the use and production of marijuana and hemp is back on the parliamentary agenda. However, the Hmong hill tribe people want the law to leave hemp out, fearing it would jeopardise the age-old use of hemp in their culture and traditions. The government should listen to their concerns.

Last month saw several attempts to advocate for cannabis laws. The Bhumjaithai Party's bill on marijuana and hemp underwent a public hearing. Simultaneously, various groups, including the Creative Thai Farmers Association, the Industrial Hemp and Marijuana Association, and the Thai Ganja Future Network, urged an immediate review of the government's cannabis draft law with their own versions.

The cannabis law was an attempt by the previous administration to placate public outrage over the legalisation of marijuana in 2018. While legalisation has created economic opportunities, the unregulated market triggers public concerns over health risks and youth addiction. Due to strong demands from the medical profession and the public to outlaw marijuana, the bill on cannabis regulation was aborted due to MPs' walkouts.

The Hmong communities opposed it for a different reason, insisting that hemp should not be in the cannabis law in the first place.

Marijuana in Thai is ganja and hemp is ganchong. The names are similar because they belong to the same species. They also look almost similar as young plants. In full growth, however, the ganja plants are bush-like with dark green leaves. Ganchong, meanwhile, is taller than two metres with scattered branches and yellowish-green leaves. The close similarities led to the widespread belief that both ganja and ganchong are drugs. Ganja is, but ganchong or hemp is not.

Hemp has less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which means it doesn't make users feel high or affect their nervous system. Globally, plants with THC under 0.3% are not seen as addictive. By contrast, marijuana contains 5-20% THC, which affects the nervous system, causing a high, and is considered addictive. No one uses hemp for recreational purposes and gets addicted, unlike marijuana, which is used recreationally and has addictive properties.

The difference between marijuana and hemp has also been acknowledged legally. In 2004, two Hmong villagers in Chiang Rai's Khun Tan district were charged with growing marijuana, although it was actually hemp. The court later ruled them innocent, confirming that hemp is not a drug plant with psychoactive substances like ganja.

The Ministry of Public Health also understands the difference between cannabis and hemp. Following a public outcry against ganja's health risks, it issued a ministerial regulation on controlled plants on Nov 24, 2022 to regulate marijuana, but not hemp.

Hemp is widely grown in Hmong communities because it is an integral part of Hmong culture and traditions. The hemp fibre is used not only for clothes but also for fabrics for religious ceremonies from birth to death.

When they are born, they are wrapped in hemp cloth, and when they pass away, they are dressed in hemp clothing; even their shoes are made of hemp.

In royal efforts to support indigenous arts and handicrafts, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother has also promoted hemp clothing and handicrafts of Hmong communities through the SUPPORT Foundation. The message is loud and clear: hemp needs more support, not control.

But hemp is more than a cultural product. It is a versatile plant with vast economic potential.

Every part, from the plant to leaves, seeds, and bark, is used in various industries like textiles, to make lightweight bulletproof vests, paper production, thermal insulation, bio-plastics, and construction materials. Hemp-derived oil and extracts are also used in food, beauty, and health products for their high nutritional content, rich in protein, vitamin E, and omega fatty acids.

If the cannabis law takes effect, these economic benefits will be out of reach for ordinary people. According to the bill, a permit to grow hemp costs 50,000 baht, while another 50,000 baht is needed for producing hemp products, and 5,000 baht for selling them.

Most Hmong with traditional knowledge of hemp's medicinal properties will be robbed of an opportunity to earn an income from hemp medicines because they cannot afford the permits.

Instead, large investors will profit. No wonder industrial hemp businesses have banded together to advocate for hemp regulation that benefits them.

The Hmong communities' demand is valid. The government must not include hemp in its cannabis law because it is not a drug.

In addition, hemp should be treated like cassava, sugar, and other cash crops that anyone can grow and sell, without laws supporting monopolistic control.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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