Cannabis rules must make sense
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Cannabis rules must make sense

It's quite a relief that Public Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew is ruling out the recriminalisation of cannabis.

For months, there has been news of the Ministry of Public Health attempting to put cannabis back onto the Type 5 Narcotics list, a status that could ensure jail terms to anyone who has weed in their possession.

Last week, Dr Cholnan insisted that cannabis for medical use will be allowed and a cannabis control bill is still in the works.

On April 2, he responded to a recent interview which Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin gave to a French media channel, giving an impression that his government would relist cannabis as a narcotic.

Even as Mr Srettha was making his remarks, the government of Germany announced the decriminalisation of the plant, allowing the use of cannabis for recreational purposes. Germany is the third European country to go liberal.

The Prayut Chan-o-cha administration removed cannabis from the narcotics list in 2022 due to heavy lobbying by the Bhumjaithai Party, which was then a coalition party, and that made Thailand the first country in Southeast Asia to adopt such a liberal policy.

The policy has triggered a boom in marijuana for medical, wellness and recreational purposes.

However, decriminalisation without proper regulations, like mandatory labelling for the food industry (cannabis can harm children and people allergic to it) and measures to prevent cannabis sales to young people resulted in social chaos.

Some state agencies eagerly wanted to bring it back to the narcotics list.

It would be ironic for a country that tolerates the possession of five methamphetamine pills to get tough on cannabis, one of the most important herbs in Thai traditional medicine, used for centuries before it was banned under the Cannabis Act of 1935.

During the past two years, lawmakers in support of cannabis have proposed draft laws to reduce the negative impacts of cannabis liberalisation.

Currently, there are four cannabis control bills: two proposed by members of the civil sector, which are currently undergoing public consultation, one by Bhumjaithai and one by the Move Forward Party.

The Public Health Ministry is working on its own bill and once it is complete, five bills will be scrutinised and shortlisted for cabinet consideration.

Dr Cholnan said the Pheu Thai government has made it clear in parliament that cannabis will only be used for medical purposes and relisting it as a narcotic is not possible.

That's not good enough, however. Dr Cholnan's "medical use only" stance has been much criticised. A narrow interpretation of the term, such as the need for doctor's prescriptions, could be a disadvantage.

Allowing recreational use with proper regulations while enacting measures to protect non-cannabis users in public places can be acceptable.

Some cases may also lack clear lines between medical and recreational use. How do we determine that someone is using marijuana to treat their migraine? What about sick people who need the plant to boost their appetite? Is it medicinal or recreational?

The idea behind the cannabis bill must be practical and without the need for execessive control.

Basically, the law must respect the rights of individuals to get fair access to this herbal plant. The permission process must recognise the right to home use, which means those wishing to grow the plant in a limited way, perhaps up to five or seven plants, can do so.

Of course, youths must be banned from consuming the substance; zoning rules must be established to ensure cannabis stores are not located too close to schools.

Meanwhile, penalties for cannabis misuse must be proportionate. At least, the punishment must not be harsher than those regulating the consumption of alcohol.

However, bad traders selling cannabis to young people must be punished to the maximum extent.

The government should promote cannabis education with campaigns to raise awareness of the risks for society at large.

Such an education initiative is to prevent misunderstandings and stigmatisation, ensuring the proper use and consumption of the herbal plant.

The government should support and strengthen the traditional medicine sector, look at how cannabis is used by practitioners, and ensure more research and development programmes that nurture this local wisdom.

If well managed, cannabis can be a key economic plant, bringing revenue to the government and citizens of the country.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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