New cannabis bill 'restricts freedoms'

New cannabis bill 'restricts freedoms'

Activist rejects many complaints claim

Cannabis plants are put on display at the Asia International Hemp Expo, held in Bangkok in November 2022. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)
Cannabis plants are put on display at the Asia International Hemp Expo, held in Bangkok in November 2022. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)

The new cannabis bill grinding its way through parliament toughens penalties and includes jail terms for growing, selling and importing without a licence and for marketing and advertising the drug that was delisted as a narcotic in June 2022.

But its most controversial provision is the imposition of fines for recreational smoking, even in one's own home. This has drawn condemnation from many, including long-time cannabis legalisation advocate and entrepreneur Chokwan Kitty Chopaka.

"The whole discussion about medical and recreational, it's too black and white," she told Dave Kendall in the latest episode of the Bangkok Post podcast, Deeper Dive.

"Say if I have a joint -- I smoke about an inch of it, and it helps my migraine. I can now sit and work for another two, three hours reading documents and researching, but the second inch of that joint -- because I no longer have the migraine, I am now happy. Does that mean that's recreational? So it's never really black or white. We should also be able to grow what we use in our household," said Ms Kitty.

"This new bill does not allow for home-grown, does not allow for home use of the home-grown. If you grow, you need to sell. If you want to use, you need to buy. So it really shows the amount of rights that they are trying to remove from us."

Asked about the reported raft of complaints about cannabis smoking, she said. "I could not find a f****** phone number to call to make a complaint. We even had meetings with the health department. It is so hard to even get someone on the other end of the phone to ask any questions or tell them, 'Hey, there is an [unlicensed] shop selling in front of a school' or something like that, there is no way for you to actually make complaints. I would also like to make those complaints!"

The ability to control what she calls "bad actors" is one reason legislation is necessary, she says. Another is financial: with the Thai Chamber of Commerce expecting the value of the cannabis industry to hit 43 billion baht in 2025, a new law is needed for investors to feel safe. And for those worrying the new law's true intention is to shut down the industry, Ms Kitty says it's now too established for that.

"You can drive down the expressway, and you see like Doctor CBD or CBD water," she told the podcast. "You go to 7-Eleven, you see cannabis water … it has slowly integrated into Thailand ... no different than like, say, alcohol or sweets or like snacks.

"I would say that within this year, we'll probably see some of these companies going into the stock exchange … there really is no going back."

In reality, she said, the bill represents a power struggle to see who -- or which government department -- will own cannabis for the next five years.

"It's not about cannabis, it's about political positioning … more like a pawn that they can use or kind of exchange or move around."

For many people, the biggest question is whether the ban on recreational smoking is going to be enforced, along with the 60,000-baht fine.

"At least there's no criminal charges," Ms Kitty said. "I would say that it's more of a deterrent, which equals more shakedowns.

"You know, this is Thailand … corruption is so rampant that it's not funny. Don't forget that because it has been delisted, it is no longer something that the police can kind of shake you down for from walking down Sukhumvit or all of those touristy places. They need to figure out a way to make money. So otherwise, the world just doesn't go round."

Does that mean a cop could be breaking your door down mid-spliff?

"That wouldn't happen because that in itself would hinder tourism. I don't think anyone would knock on your door if you're not blowing smoke through people's windows.

"The press ... will go, 'you can't use it recreationally.' This doesn't mean that you will stop people from using. But at least they will go away from other people so that they don't get caught … not really bothering anyone. So it's not like arrests are going to increase, or it will be any different than before legalisation.

"We just have to kind of find our way around those rules that come in," she concluded.

You can watch the full interview with Chokwan Kitty Chopaka in the latest edition of the Deeper Dive podcast by playing the video below, by going to https://spoti.fi/3SgNSuB or by searching for "Deeper Dive Thailand" wherever you get your podcasts.

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