Democrat leader denies rift with Bhumjaithai over cannabis legislation
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Democrat leader denies rift with Bhumjaithai over cannabis legislation

Pheu Thai also explains voting down the bill

A woman shows a cannabis product at an exhibition at the Public Health Ministry's Department of Health Service Support in Nonthaburi in July. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
A woman shows a cannabis product at an exhibition at the Public Health Ministry's Department of Health Service Support in Nonthaburi in July. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Democrat leader Jurin Laksanawisit has denied a rift with the coalition-partner Bhumjaithai Party over cannabis legislation, saying his party supports its use for medical purposes, not liberalisation of it.

Mr Jurin was responding to criticism that the forced withdrawal from the House business agenda of the Bhumjaithai Party’s flagship legislation was politically motivated ahead of the coming general election.

Pheu Thai MP and opposition chief whip Suthin Klangsaeng also explained his party's opposition to the legislation and accused Public Health Minister and Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul of promoting recreational use of cannabis, which his party never supported. 

On Wednesday, the Cannabis and Hemp Bill, which had already passed its first reading in the House of Representatives and been heavily revised by a scrutiny committee, was dealt a major setback. The House voted 198 to 136 with 12 abstentions to withdraw the bill for improvements to be made to it, over the objections of Bhumjaithai, which sponsored the legislation.

Mr Jurin denied that his party's opposition to the bill was politically motivated. The Democrat Party took into consideration the interests of young people and the country’s future, he said.

The party supported the use of cannabis and hemps for medical purposes, but not liberalisation of the plant's use. It was showing that it was a political party that cared about the country, the Democrat leader said. He believed other political parties shared the same view.

On Bhumjaithai’s response that the withdrawal of the bill would push people growing cannabis outside the law, Mr Jurin said the future of the country must be above everything else. Long-term effects must also be taken into consideration when solving problems regarding this issue, he said.

Asked about Mr Anutin's remark that the withdrawal of the bill, which was already completely revised, would hurt many people, Mr Jurin said Mr Anutin may look at the matter from a different angle. The Democrat Party saw it necessary to act to solve problems that may affect people in the future.

He declined to say if the bill would be re-tabled in time for the next parliament session. It was up to a House committee to amend the bill to ensure medical use, not liberalisation of cannabis, Mr Jurin said.

For the time being, the Public Health Ministry could use other measures to control cannabis use, he said.

Mr Jurin said that in the past, bills sponsored by the Democrat Party had been rejected. For example, seven draft constitutional amendments had been submitted to parliament, but only one charter amendment bill had been passed.

The party had never criticised the other political parties, because it respected the vote of the parliament,  Mr Jurin said.

- Pheu Thai view -

Mr Suthin, a Pheu Thai MP for Maha Sarakham, said his party never supported the recreational use of cannabis.

The government and the Bhumjaithai Party should have proposed a law to control use of cannabis and hemp before announcing a policy of decriminalisation of cannabis. In the absence of laws to enforce restrictions on its use, he feared that cannabis would not be used solely for medical purposes, but also for recreation as there was no law against it. He accused the public health minister of promoting use of cannabis.

Mr Suthin said that when the government had proposed the Cannabis and Hemp Bill, the Pheu Thai Party voted to accept it in the hope it would be revised and improved, particularly on issues that worry society. 

Pheu Thai had six MPs on the House panel scrutinising the bill. They felt that the bill as it was intended for the second and third readings in parliament promoted recreational use of cannabis, he said.

Pheu Thai was of the view the bill was amended beyond acceptable levels by adding provisions that promoted recreational use of cannabis and hemp. 

Not only Pheu Thai and the Democrats disagreed with the bill, other coalition partners including the ruling Palang Pracharath Party also opposed it, according to Mr Suthin.

He said the withdrawal of the bill from parliament was not an attempt to delay legislation. Those who voted against the bill wanted greater caution. The Bhumjaithai Party must listen to views of the people, the Pheu Thai MP said. 

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