Cannabis permit system in pipeline
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Cannabis permit system in pipeline

Health minister Somsak reiterates determination to ban all recreational use

An official checks the licence of a shop selling cannabis on ​​Khao San Road in Bangkok in April 2023. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
An official checks the licence of a shop selling cannabis on ​​Khao San Road in Bangkok in April 2023. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Permits will be required to grow and use cannabis for medical purposes and research, and recreational use will be banned under new legislation, Public Health Minister Somsak Thepsutin said on Thursday.

His comments follow the surprising policy reversal earlier this month by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who pledged to re-criminalise cannabis by the end of the year after it was de-criminalised in 2022.

Details of the licensing process were still being worked out, Mr Somsak said.

“The permit system must not place an unreasonable burden on the public,” he said in a post on Facebook, adding that there would be a grace period for the public to adjust.

Pro-cannabis groups have protested against Mr Srettha’s move, saying it stands to damage business confidence after thousands of cannabis cafes and dispensaries sprang up after legalisation, an industry projected to be worth up to US$1.2 billion by 2025.

The country first legalised cannabis for research and medical use in 2018 and two years ago dropped the plant from the national narcotics list, allowing people to grow, sell and consume it.

In order to curb recreational use, Mr Somsak said that cannabis buds and flowers would be reclassified as Category 5 narcotics. The leaves, branches, roots, stems and seeds would still be available to use for approved health and medical applications, he said.

The previous government failed to pass a new law to regulate cannabis. The Pheu Thai government has prepared a bill that would clearly spell out approved medicinal uses of the plant, as well as what forms of consumption would be banned. It hopes to have a law in effect before the end of the year.

Mr Somsak, who was named health minister in the recent cabinet reshuffle, said earlier that he wanted to listen to people’s opinions first before making a final decision on how to proceed.

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