Axed part of hemp bill sparks debate
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Axed part of hemp bill sparks debate

A man takes pictures at the Asia International Hemp Expo in Bangkok last month. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)
A man takes pictures at the Asia International Hemp Expo in Bangkok last month. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)

The House committee vetting the controversial cannabis/hemp control bill on Wednesday agreed to remove Section 3 of the draft law which stipulates that cannabis and hemp were not considered narcotic substances under the Narcotics Act.

This raised questions about the status of the plant, but the Bhumjaithai Party, which sponsored the bill, and the Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine (DTAM) insisted that axing Section 3 would not affect the rest of the bill.

The committee's decision came as lawmakers resumed their deliberation of the bill.

It returned for a second reading on Wednesday after the bill was sent back to the House committee for review in September. However, Wednesday's meeting was adjourned before the MPs cast their votes.

Supachai Jaisamut, chairman of the panel and a list-MP of the Bhumjaithai Party, stressed the bill was intended to curb the recreational use of cannabis given the implications that it has for society.

It introduced measures designed to keep the plant out of the reach of young people while imposing severe penalties for violations. Moreover, households would be allowed to grow no more than 15 cannabis plants each.

As a result, the draft law, which originally had 45 sections, currently contains 95.

Urging MPs to openly discuss their concerns, the Bhumjaithai member asked them to pass the bill, which he said is a necessary tool to recognise the medical usage of the plant while controlling its recreational use.

The MPs then began a full review of the bill on a section-by-section basis.

When the discussion reached Section 3, Mr Supachai said the House committee agreed to remove it entirely following concerns from fellow MPs.

However, his remark drew criticism from Pheu Thai MPs, who claimed there was no formal resolution by the panel. Jullapan Amornwiwat, a Pheu Thai MP for Chiang Mai, asked for a break so the committee could make the change official.

Mr Supachai admitted the panel had not adopted a formal stance and called a 20-minute break.

The Bhumjaithai MP said a minority of panel members proposed removing the section during the meeting.

"The committee and I won't speculate that cannabis may later be restored as a narcotic drug after this section is removed. What comes after this has nothing to do with the committee, which stands by its decision to remove all of Section 3," he said.

After the break, Mr Supachai informed the House of the panel's decision.

Bhumjaithai party spokesman Paradorn Prissananantakul billed the committee's move a compromise.

He said it opted to take out the entire section to avoid conflict and ensure the examination would proceed.

"If the bill fails to clear parliament, the party will use it to campaign for the next election. We want to push for its passage ... Any party that wants to restore it as a narcotic drug should make their stance known, too, so the public know which party to vote for," he said.

Meanwhile, DTAM director-general Thongchai Lertwilairattanapong said the removal of Section 3 would not reverse cannabis's delisting as a narcotic drug.

However, he admitted it could raise concerns about the plant's status. Even though it is a herb, there must be a law regulating its use, he added.

During debate, Pheu Thai MP for Chiang Rai, Pichet Chuamuangpan, said the bill posed a threat to people's health and safety.

"If we become the government after next year's elections, we'll restore cannabis as a narcotic drug. The bill is considered irresponsible," he said.

He also asked why the Narcotics Control Board, which is responsible for drug suppression and prevention, was not involved in drafting the bill, given that Thailand is obliged to comply with the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which classifies cannabis as a narcotic but permits its use under supervised medical conditions.

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