Better weed bill needed

Better weed bill needed

All eyes are on the Public Health Ministry -- which has pushed for a tough draft bill on cannabis and hemp control. The bill was up for a public hearing on Friday.

Previously, Public Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew was in hot water after saying he had submitted the bill to the cabinet. The statement suggested that the ministry bypassed public consultation. He later corrected himself, saying that it was the ministry's opinions on the draft that reached the cabinet, shortly before a public hearing. The minister also promised a speedy process so that the bill would be enacted soon.

But the bill is not without controversy. Cannabis advocates spoke out against the draft, which, if implemented, will only allow for medical use. Recreational use of marijuana will be prohibited.

Those wishing to grow cannabis are required to seek permission, not simply notify the authorities -- as stipulated in ministerial regulations issued by the Prayut Chan-o-cha government. The bill imposes harsh penalties for violators. For example, growing cannabis without permission is subject to imprisonment from one to five years and fines of between 20,000-500,000 baht, depending on the size of the crop.

Such tough penalties are deemed inconsistent with the principle that cannabis is now seen as a herb. Only cannabis extracts containing more than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) would still be classified as a narcotic.

With a narrow definition for recreational use, as mentioned in Section 4 and Section 42 (1) on banning sales of cannabis parts to any individual for recreational purposes -- the bill is problematic and may contradict the decriminalisation of cannabis principle.

Cannabis advocates are right in questioning why the government is being lenient regarding methamphetamine pills but toughened its stance on this particular herb. From the question arises the need for the country to have a law to better regulate cannabis use. But a law with contradictions and inconsistencies is simply useless. It will only create more problems.

The government should be aware that the negative reports about cannabis in the past year following its decriminalisation -- underage consumption and inadvertent eating of cannabis products like cookies -- resulted largely from the failure of authorities to enforce the law and leaving legal loopholes open.

Restrictions based on the minimum age of 20 and on places for consumption -- for instance, in consumers' own homes and not in public areas -- should be enough for this law, given that control measures on the planting, selling and advertising, and type of product (those containing more than 0.2% THC) are in place. With regard to the food industry, the authorities should implement strong labelling measures in order that people who want to refrain from trying cannabis can make their choices accordingly.

The Department of Traditional Medicines, in particular, should not shy away from promoting this plant. Right consumption for holistic health, like culinary cannabis, for instance, as practised in the old days -- is not wrong and can add value. There should be more investment in terms of research and study so as to further promote the plant.

The government and the Public Health Ministry must pay heed to public opinion. While the public sector cannot push for its version of the cannabis bill due to a shortage of signatures, those concerned must consider what would make the cannabis law a highly efficient one.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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