Cannabis advocates vow long rally against relisting
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Cannabis advocates vow long rally against relisting

Group walks out of talks with health minister, accusing him of being too rigid

An employee checks on marijuana plants inside a greenhouse operated by Actera, a cannabis cultivation company based in Samut Prakan. (Photo: Bloomberg)
An employee checks on marijuana plants inside a greenhouse operated by Actera, a cannabis cultivation company based in Samut Prakan. (Photo: Bloomberg)

Cannabis advocates have vowed to organise a protracted rally next month against the plan by the Ministry of Public Health to relist the plant as a narcotic.

Prasitchai Nunual, secretary-general of Writing Thai Cannabis’ Future Network, announced the group’s intention after its representatives walked out of a meeting on the issue with Public Health Minister Somsak Thepsutin on Wednesday.

Prior to the meeting, the group had been urging the minister to push for a law to control the use of cannabis and for a committee to launch a study to determine if a separate cannabis act is needed to regulate the plant’s use.

Without a separate cannabis act, the plant’s use would be regulated by the Criminal Code, which prescribes tough penalties for cannabis-related offences.

Cannabis was removed from the narcotics list two years ago but without any proper regulations to govern its use. The result was an explosion in recreational use and the opening of thousands of shops nationwide selling marijuana and related products.

Attempts by the previous government to pass a cannabis bill failed, but Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has taken a tough line and insisted that cannabis would be back on the narcotics list before the year is out.

Mr Prasitchai insisted the ministry drop its plan to reclassify the plant as a narcotic, except in instances where it could be proven that legalisation or decriminalisation has been against the interests of the people.

An hour into the meeting, Mr Prasitchai and other members of the group staged a walkout.

He accused Mr Somsak of being too insistent on the ministry’s announced stand and refusing to compromise, according to a source close to the matter.

Patients could suffer

Before he left the meeting, Mr Prasitchai warned that at least 10,000 patients who rely on cannabis-based traditional medicine would seek justice from Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

Their access to the essential medicine could be cut off if cannabis is recriminalised, he said, adding that people would not be allowed to grow the plant in their backyards for personal use if Mr Somsak has his way.

Once cannabis is relisted as a Category 5 narcotic, the plant can only be grown and harvested on a large scale for medicinal and research purposes.

Such ventures are capital-intensive, so critics say the plan effectively places the industry in the hands of big businesses.

Mr Prasitchai alleged that a certain financier with close connections to a political party was eyeing such a venture. He declined to elaborate.

He branded as scaremongers people who came up with “fictitious” claims and stories about people losing their sanity from using cannabis.

The network has vowed to lie low for a while before converging on July 8 for a protracted rally near Government House to press for cannabis rules that fairly benefit the people.

Meanwhile, Mr Somsak said at least two ministerial regulations would need to be issued to specify which parts of the cannabis plant are considered narcotics, and to outline legal ways to cultivate cannabis for medical and research use, which would require a licence.

He ruled out the consumption of cannabis for recreational use.

“That’s where the problem lies. People smoke weed in public areas, and the smell bothers those around them,” the minister said.

The permanent secretary for public health, Opas Karnkawinpong, confirmed the minister’s plan to ban the private cultivation of the plant for personal use.

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