Weed policy U-turn draws flak
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Weed policy U-turn draws flak

Network plans 'major protest' in capital

Cannabis plants are put on display at the Asia International Hemp Expo, held in Bangkok in November 2022. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)
Cannabis plants are put on display at the Asia International Hemp Expo, held in Bangkok in November 2022. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)

The Pheu Thai-led government's about-turn on the last administration's cannabis decriminalisation policy has drawn flak from critics, with activists vowing to protest its plan to reclassify the plant as a narcotic.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Thursday said the government wants to reclassify cannabis as a narcotic, and the move should not upset the coalition member Bhumjaithai Party.

The plant was decriminalised in 2022 after the party made the issue its flagship campaign policy ahead of the 2019 election.

"The coalition government makes a decision in the best interests of the people," Mr Srettha said.

Asked if he has discussed the matter with Interior Minister and Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul, Mr Srettha said he believed concerned authorities have already discussed it.

On Wednesday, Mr Srettha held a meeting with relevant officials to discuss the problem of narcotics in the country. Among those present were Mr Anutin, Public Health Minister Somsak Thepsutin, Justice Minister Tawee Sodsong and security officials.

Government spokesman Chai Wacharonke summarised the meeting.

The premier expressed concern about the social ramifications of the drug problem, as he instructed government agencies to crack down hard on drug traffickers, seize drug-related assets as well as step up efforts to help rehabilitate addicts, Mr Chai said.

Drug suppression is a national priority, the spokesman quoted the prime minister as saying.

Mr Srettha also instructed the Public Health Ministry to amend a ministerial regulation to put cannabis back onto the Category 5 Narcotics list as well as issue a new regulation to ensure that the plant is only used for medical purposes by the end of this year, the spokesman said.

"The drug problem is a pressing concern. It is undermining the country's future. The government must expedite efforts to address it.

"All concerned agencies must work harder to crack down on drug traders and rehabilitate drug addicts. Progress must be made within 90 days," Mr Chai said, quoting the PM as saying.

Mr Anutin said on Thursday that the delisting of cannabis from the narcotics list was approved by the National Narcotics Control Board. If the government wants to reclassify cannabis as a narcotic, the Public Health Ministry must gather sufficient information to support the move and convince health committees to vote for it, he said.

Prasitchai Nunual, secretary-general of the Cannabis Future Network, said yesterday the network will hold a major rally in front of Government House if the authorities go ahead with its plan to reclassify cannabis as a narcotic.

Cannabis liberalisation was one of the key election pledges made by Bhumjaithai ahead of the 2019 election.

The plant was later delisted from Category 5 of the narcotics law, except extracts containing more than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound that creates the psychoactive effect, in an announcement in the Royal Gazette on June 9, 2022.

It allows people to legally cultivate and use cannabis as a household herb for medicinal purposes.

The aim was to promote the plan's medical benefits and support the economy by pushing cannabis and hemp as cash crops and allowing their use in food, fashion and cosmetics.

Current regulations include no smoking in public and no sales to people under 20 years old and pregnant women. Cannabis shops also must apply for a licence, while those who grow cannabis for industrial use must also have licences.

However, decriminalisation preceded the legislation needed to control and regulate its use, which led to a free-for-all in the industry as businesses, many owned by foreigners, invested in cannabis outlets while users bought weed with little to no medical or consumer guidance.

Parliament has yet to pass a cannabis bill, which has led to questions about how far cannabis liberalisation has actually come.

A cannabis control bill pushed by Bhumjaithai was shot down in its second reading in parliament early last year. This bill contains a raft of safeguard measures, such as a zoning law.

At the time, the Pheu Thai and the Democrat parties opposed the bill, arguing that the regulations proposed under the bill were too lax.

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