New health minister seeks cannabis views
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New health minister seeks cannabis views

Somsak wants more feedback before deciding on proposed bill to recriminalise plant

Cannabis plants are displayed at a “green market” in Nonthaburi. (Photo: Apichart Jinakul)
Cannabis plants are displayed at a “green market” in Nonthaburi. (Photo: Apichart Jinakul)

Newly appointed Health Minister Somsak Thepsuthin says he needs to listen to people’s opinions first before making a final decision on the future of cannabis.

Speaking on his first official working day at the Ministry of Public Health, Mr Somsak said the final decision had not yet been made on whether to go ahead with plans to recriminalise cannabis under a new law, saying it was very important to get people’s opinions about whether it should be put back on the list of controlled narcotic drugs.

Mr Somsak’s predecessor, Dr Cholnan Srikaew, had been pushing for tough legislation to curb the recreational use of cannabis, which has skyrocketed since decriminalisation in June 2022. He had prepared a bill that would clearly spell out approved medicinal uses of the plant, as well as what forms of consumption would be banned.

Supporters of liberalisation said such a move could put thousands of cannabis shops and farms out of business and set back efforts to promote cannabis as an economic crop.

Mr Somsak said authorities need to seriously consider the scope of applications for cannabis because a narcotic-like plant should not be planted by everyone. Nor should it be consumed in a way that causes annoyance to non-cannabis smokers, he said.

“We do need to find a proper solution, which would not take long. But it would not need to go to a stage of public hearings,” he said without elaborating.

Mr Somsak, a former justice minister and longtime Thaksin Shinawatra loyalist, was rewarded in the recent cabinet reshuffle with the Ministry of Public Health, perceived as a Grade-A ministry, for helping smooth the return and rehabilitation of the former prime minister.

A hundred public health officials led by permanent secretary Dr Opas Kankawinpong welcomed Mr Somsak on his first day in the office.

Cannabis is no longer a narcotic plant, except in concentrations that contain over 0.2% of the psychoactive substance Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) by weight. But while liberalisation was intended to promote its use for medical treatment, consumption for recreational purposes is also widespread in the absence of proper legislation and enforcement.

Several groups have been lobbying to put cannabis back on the narcotic list in order to curb improper use, especially among adolescents and young people.

Previously, Mr Somsak had expressed his support for putting cannabis back on the narcotic list.

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