Bhumjaithai to revive cannabis bill after election

Bhumjaithai to revive cannabis bill after election

Unintended consequences of chaotic decriminalisation now guaranteed to be an election issue

Bhumjaithai Party leader and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul inspects cannabis products at an exhibition on May 25 last year. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Bhumjaithai Party leader and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul inspects cannabis products at an exhibition on May 25 last year. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

The Bhumjaithai Party has pledged to push for the passage of a bill on cannabis and hemp in the next House session after the election, after the controversial draft failed to win support this week.

Supachai Jaisamut, a Bhumjaithai list MP and chairman of the House committee vetting the draft law, appeared resigned after the bill, sponsored by his party, got stuck at the second-reading stage.

On Wednesday the House of Representatives continued its section-by-section second reading of the draft law. It took almost three hours to secure a quorum and vote on Section 15/3 of the bill.

Of the 211 MPs who declared their presence in the chamber, 148 voted in favour and 21 voted against it with 36 abstentions. The six others did not cast votes.

Deputy House Speaker Supachai Phosu declared the meeting adjourned at 2.42pm, saying he saw no point in continuing to call for quorum checks.

The absence of dozens of MPs has been a daily feature of House sessions for the past several weeks. Though the House has not been formally dissolved and an election date has not been confirmed, every party has been in full campaign mode and a lot of public business has been neglected as a result.

Thursday was the last day of the House meeting, meaning the bill on cannabis and hemp will not be enacted before the current term expires. The Bhumjaithai list MP said the party would resubmit the bill when the House convenes later this year after the general election.

He also urged people to vote for Bhumjaithai if they did not want cannabis to be reinstated as a narcotic drug.

Bhumjaithai, which successfully pushed for the removal of cannabis from the Type 5 narcotic drug list for medical use and research purposes, has faced stiff opposition from coalition and opposition parties in enacting the draft law intended to curb the recreational use of cannabis.

The critics have said that legal controls over the use of cannabis and hemp, as stipulated in its bill, may be lax.

With the country heading into election season with cannabis legislation in limbo, it’s now certain that last year’s chaotic decriminalisation of the plant will be a campaign issue amid a boom in the sale and consumption of marijuana products.

Thailand became the first Southeast Asian country to decriminalise cannabis last year, but within a week of the move issued a raft of rushed piecemeal regulations to curb its potential unchecked use, including by children.

Thousands of cannabis shops and businesses have since popped up in Bangkok and in tourist hotspots, many within weeks of its decriminalisation.

The opposition Pheu Thai Party, which is expected to win the most seats in the coming election, says the recreational use of cannabis poses a threat to society, especially young people.

“The party only supports the use of cannabis for medical purposes,” spokesperson Trichada Sritada told Reuters.

Satit Wongnongtoey, a lawmaker from the Democrat Party, said the decriminalisation of cannabis without proper legislation was a mistake and vowed to address it after the election. His party only supports its medical use, he said.

But Mr Supachai of Bhumjaithai is undeterred, saying his party will strive to deliver on the promises it first made during the 2019 election campaign.

“If there is a cannabis law, we can regulate it 100%,” he said. “But with what we have, we can already regulate it 70%.”

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