Drug code sows cannabis confusion

Drug code sows cannabis confusion

Plant remains a tightly controlled substance despite legal amendments

A ‘nora’ dance performer takes an interest in a cannabis plant. The plant is on display at the 18th National Herb Expo in Bangkok last month. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)
A ‘nora’ dance performer takes an interest in a cannabis plant. The plant is on display at the 18th National Herb Expo in Bangkok last month. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)

The decriminalisation of cannabis has reached another milestone as neither it nor hemp appear on the newly implemented Narcotics Code. However this has led some people to mistakenly assume they can now grow cannabis at home legally.

According to police and narcotics suppression officials, cannabis remains illegal despite the regulatory changes, and those who cultivate and possess the plant without permission will still face legal action.

This has sown confusion among the public and sparked frustration with the latest changes to the narcotics law, which took effect on Dec 9 last year.

Supachai Jaisamut, a list MP for the Bhumjaithai Party that advocates the legalisation of cannabis, has voiced concern about the authorities' lack of clarity in regard to the new law.

According to the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB), the basic status of cannabis remains unchanged as it is still listed as a Category 5 narcotic substance by the Public Health Ministry.

Unless the ministry makes further amendments to fully delist the plant, it is still illegal for the public to grow or possess it without permission from the proper authorities.

ONCB secretary-general Wichai Chaimongkhon explained that cannabis was not included in the new Narcotics Code in order to pave the way for the plant to be removed from the list of Category 5 narcotics in the future.

Citing Section 29, Paragraph 2 of the code, he said the Public Health Ministry is authorised to classify narcotics and announce the names of controlled substances with the approval of the ONCB.

"Because the Public Health Ministry has yet to make a new announcement, cannabis remains a Category 5 narcotic substance," he said.

Mr Wichai pointed out that methamphetamine and crystal methamphetamine are also not mentioned in the Narcotics Code, but they remain illegal because they are listed as Category 1 substances as per the Public Heath Ministry's announcement.

"So, the same rule applies to cannabis. If the Public Heath Ministry wants to remove cannabis, it must publish a new ministerial announcement to which state authorities are required to adhere," he said.

Thailand has so far allowed the use of cannabis for medical or research purposes with several components of the plant including stems, roots, leaves and sprigs removed from the Category 5 list.

But growers are still required to obtain permission from the ministry and work in tandem with research institutes or hospitals that use the plant for medical or research purposes.

Mr Wichai added that the Narcotics Code also regulates imports of cannabis for medical purposes, with only seeds allowed to be brought into the country for the first two years of its enforcement.

However, it remains to be seen if cannabis can be liberalised in the same fashion as kratom given that Thailand has signed three international drug control treaties and must strictly abide by them.

They are the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), the Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971), and the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, which took effect in 1990.

Viroj Sumyai, former president of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), said the government would have to set up a special agency to supervise the cultivation and use of cannabis for medical purposes.

The 1961 Convention classifies cannabis as a narcotic but permits its use under supervised medical conditions.

"I think we can do that but we need to have a good system. The UN is unlikely to object because the treaty allows it. We need a law that recognises the guidelines in the treaty," he said.

But Mr Viroj stressed that the government cannot allow each household to grow up to six cannabis plants -- a proposal floated during the election campaign by the Bhumjaithai Party -- as this would fall outside the conventions.

Growing cannabis for recreational use is also not possible, he said, adding that if Thailand were to break the conventions it would no longer be allowed to import certain drugs they cover.

The use of cannabis leaves in traditional medicine is not prohibited by the UN treaty, however, he noted.

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