Cannabis backers start hunger strike as legal change looms
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Cannabis backers start hunger strike as legal change looms

Jan 1 date for relisting as a narcotic will give those affected time to adjust and apply for licences, say authorities

Police look on as cannabis advocates protest against the government’s plan to relist the plant as a narcotic outside Government House on Wednesday. They have vowed to stay until parliament passes a law to control the use of the plant. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)
Police look on as cannabis advocates protest against the government’s plan to relist the plant as a narcotic outside Government House on Wednesday. They have vowed to stay until parliament passes a law to control the use of the plant. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)

Pro-cannabis activists on Wednesday began a hunger strike to demand that the government listen to their views, as the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) affirmed that parts of the plant would be relisted as a narcotic on Jan 1.

Mana Siriphitthayawat, deputy secretary-general of the board, said on Wednesday that it would probably consider the recriminalisation of cannabis late this month. If the proposal is approved, the minister of public health would move to have it published in the Royal Gazette, to take effect on Jan 1, 2025.

The date was set to give a grace period of a few months for operators concerned about their legal status to adapt and apply for new licences, he said.

According to Mr Mana, the law will prohibit the possession, import and sale of cannabis flowers and resin unless one has licences to do so from the Ministry of Public Health.

Cannabis seeds as well as parts with low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content such as bark, leaves, roots, fibre and stems will not be recriminalised.

“After cannabis is relisted as a narcotic, it can be used for medical purposes only and the use must be approved. The ONCB will arrest those who use it for recreation,” Mr Mana said.

“Cannabis shops must meet criteria for licences under a new ministerial regulation that permits only sales for medical purposes,”

Boonthida Somchai, a spokesperson for the Bhumjathai Party, said cannabis was decriminalised only two years ago and people had invested tens of billions of baht in related business.

“The Bhumjaithai Party proposed a cannabis control bill and it should be better than this about-face which will affect investors’ confidence,” she said, echoing comments made on Tuesday by party leader Anutin Charnvirakul.

Meanwhile, representatives of the activist group Writing Thai Cannabis’ Future announced on Wednesday that they would stage a hunger strike until the government agrees to hold hearings to examine the benefits of cannabis.

The group started a sit-in demonstration against the recriminalisation of cannabis at Government House on Monday.

Group leaders Prasitchai Nunual and Akaradet Chakchinda announced that they were escalating their protest with a hunger strike to convince the government to listen to relevant information before making an informed decision on the future of cannabis.

They said cannabis was medicine for humanity and its recriminalisation would lead to a cannabis monopoly by certain people and businesses.

The group accused doctors at the Ministry of Public Health of colluding with some politicians to deprive members of the public of access to marijuana in order to monopolise cannabis for their own personal gain.

It likened the decision to relist cannabis as a narcotic drug to handing down a criminal sentence without a trial.

The activists said cannabis could be controlled by a normal law without resorting to the Narcotics Act.

Removing cannabis from the narcotics list was the flagship policy of Bhumjaithai Party in the 2019 election, and Mr Anutin made it possible when he was appointed public health minister.

In the resulting regulatory vacuum, recreational use surged and thousands of pot shops opened nationwide. Bhumjaithai tried to get a cannabis bill passed when it was in the previous government but time ran out last year.

Mr Anutin was made interior minister when the present coalition government was formed, with the health portfolio going to Somsak Thepsutin of the Pheu Thai Party, which advocates reversing the policy.

Bhumjaithai, the second-largest party in the coalition, dismissed talk of a rift with Pheu Thai, saying it only wanted to assert its stance on the issue.

Pheu Thai secretary-general Sorawong Thienthong said that since the cannabis control law is not ready, it is crucial to relist cannabis now. It could always be delisted again once a law is in place and this would not be a big deal, he said.

Shortly after decriminalisation in June 2022, the Medical Council of Thailand warned against the use of cannabis in food or snacks, saying it was unnecessarily increasing the load on hospital emergency services.

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