Somsak: Medical kratom to be legal soon
Kratom will likely be taken off the national narcotics drug list in June this year, in a move to unlock its medical and economic benefits.
The plant, known scientifically as Mitragyna speciosa, has long been used as a traditional medicine to treat pain, fever, dysentery and diarrhoea. But after it was categorised as a Type-5 narcotic 78 years ago, the government has spent millions of baht prosecuting people found possessing it or trading in it.
Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin is pushing ahead with its reclassification in the narcotics bill, even giving the precise date when he expects the bill to sail through parliament.
"It should be June 10," he told a public hearing on the bill yesterday.
Mr Somsak admitted he is not an expert in the technicalities of lawmaking, but as a minister, "what I can do is set a clear time frame for the enactment".
After the public consultation process concludes next Wednesday, the bill will be forwarded to the Narcotics Control Board for consideration.
On March 3, the cabinet will be asked to approve the bill before it is fine-tuned by the government advisory body, the Council of State, Mr Somsak said.
Parliament will be the final stage of its passage into law.
"If we delay things further, it will be difficult to move ahead as it [the drug's delisting] may affect certain people," the minister said.
One major potential obstacle to kratom's delisting are economic interests. Mr Somsak believes kratom-based medicines could eventually replace opiate pain medications, leading to a decrease in their importation.
Kratom, which is used as a stimulant, was originally outlawed because the government wanted to boost tax revenue, a high portion of which came from opium.
An earlier attempt to delist the plant failed over concerns about the illicit kratom-based cocktail known as "4x100".
According to Mr Somsak, 50,000 kratom-related cases were handled by police between January and October last year, costing the government about 20,000 baht per case.
"If kratom is no longer a narcotic, we can save up to one billion baht a year," he said.