Pro-weed groups put heat on govt
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Pro-weed groups put heat on govt

Some growers, however, back tougher legal stand

People check out bongs at Nonthaburi Green Market 2023 in Nonthaburi last year. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)
People check out bongs at Nonthaburi Green Market 2023 in Nonthaburi last year. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)

The government is facing increasing pressure from pro-cannabis groups which are threatening to rally at the Ministry of Public Health from Thursday until the ministry can prove that cannabis deserves to be reclassified as a narcotic drug.

In the meantime, groups of farmers licensed to grow cannabis plants since before the decriminalisation of cannabis in 2022, on Sunday backed the government's vow to reclassify cannabis as a narcotic drug again.

They say the legalisation of cannabis cultivation has led to a steep fall in cannabis prices due to oversupply of the product which was once strictly controlled.

When the pro-cannabis groups gather at the ministry, they will ask for only one thing -- that the ministry shows scientifically the benefits and health risks of cannabis in comparison to alcohol and cigarettes, said Prasitchai Nunual, secretary-general of the Cannabis Future Network.

No matter whether the ministry aims to totally or partially reclassify cannabis as a narcotic, the decision should be supported with scientific evidence, he said. The ministry will be given 15 days to prove its point and if it can convince the pro-cannabis groups, they would bow to the ministry's policy to relist cannabis as a narcotic drug, he said.

"Just search on the internet and you will find that [unlike alcohol and tobacco], there have been no research which show cannabis has a serous negative impact on mental health," he said.

"On the other hand, there are countless studies which demonstrate the health benefits of cannabis, which are sufficient to conclude that cannabis plants have medicinal properties," he said.

As for reports the number of young people found abusing cannabis as a recreational drug has surged by 10 times since the former government's decriminalisation of cannabis, Mr Prasitchai said his network has from the beginning been fighting for a law to more effectively control the use of cannabis.

"We've been fighting for this law for two years since the Prayut Chan-o-cha administration; but the required law will never be passed for various political reasons," he said.

The irony is while this government has pushed to relax the state's control of alcohol sales and consumption, it is moving to impose more legal restrictions on cannabis, he said.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, meanwhile, hinted that the government might continue allowing cannabis to be used strictly for medical purposes even after it is reclassified as a narcotic drug. Public Health Minister Somsak Thepsuthin later will offer more details about this, said Mr Srettha.

Despite its intention to relist cannabis as a narcotic, the government will listen to opinions from all sides first and leave the final decision to the Narcotics Control Board, he said.

Montri Yiamsung-noen, president of Rak Kan community enterprise network in tambon Nong Bua Sala of Muang district in Nakhon Ratchasima, said he supports the government's new stance.

More than 90% of the farmland owned by the 435 farmers in the network, licensed to grow cannabis since before the last government freed up the rules, now sits idle after cannabis prices plunged due to oversupply.

A source in a similar cannabis plant-growing community enterprise group in Sakhon Nakhon said his group shared the same position.

Before the 2022 cannabis decriminalisation, dried marijuana leaves used to be sold at 10,500 baht per kilogramme and orders were placed with the group a year in advance, while now the products sell for just 5 to 10 baht/kg, said the source. Worse still, several tonnes of cannabis plants which had been harvested previously remain in stock awaiting buyers, he said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said a formal study will be conducted and its findings reviewed by two to three panels before any decision to change the legal status of cannabis is approved.

Mr Anutin is the leader of Bhumjaithai Party, which pushed for cannabis decriminalisation during the past government.

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