A health official examines cannabis products on Khao San Road in Bangkok in April 2023. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
The Move Forward Party (MFP) has reaffirmed its plan to reinstate cannabis as a narcotic drug, while ensuring protection for its growers and sellers. MFP deputy leader Sirikanya Tansakun said on Thursday that her party intends to re-list cannabis as a narcotic through a new Public Health Ministry regulation, which would authorize police and officials involved in narcotics suppression to effectively regulate its usage.
Since cannabis was decriminalized last year, the lack of a law governing its use, cultivation, export, and import has hindered the work of officials, she said. The original goal of decriminalization was to promote cannabis for medicinal use and as an economic crop with applications including medicine, food, and beverage production. However, the lack of a law meant that recreational use has also flourished.
Ms. Sirikanya did not directly address the issue of recreational use but sought to reassure growers and businesspeople who have invested billions of baht in the burgeoning industry. “Operators and growers who comply with rules will have their businesses protected,” she said. “This is for those who have obtained licenses and registrations.”
Once the new regulation comes into effect, there will be legislation in place to protect the lawful cultivation of cannabis, she added. “We confirm that those who comply with the law will not be affected. Please rest assured,” she said.
An announcement will be issued to safeguard individuals who have registered their cannabis cultivation and the sale of cannabis-based herbal products, she said. Re-listing cannabis as a narcotic is a policy of the MFP, which secured the most House seats in the May 14 general election. The re-listing is also outlined in the memorandum of understanding that Move Forward signed with its seven coalition allies.
The drive to decriminalize cannabis was led by the Bhumjaithai Party, which is now in opposition. But the prospect of a reversal by the new government is sowing panic in an industry that is projected to be worth up to $1.2 billion over the next few years. Thousands of businesses have sprung up since the legalization of cannabis consumption and growing, with numerous shops in Bangkok and other tourist areas offering “best buds” to delighted tourists and local smokers.
The prospect of a new government rolling back the free-wheeling market is making business owners like Netnapa Singsatit nervous. “Tax cannabis, like cigarettes or alcohol, and enrich the nation. Don’t put cannabis back in prison,” said Netnapa, who runs the RG420 cannabis shop on Khao San Road. “They should have empathy for us business owners,” said Netnapa, whose business is one of 12,000 that have received three-year government permits to operate, according to official data.
The Move Forward policy is stirring consternation in the pro-cannabis lobby, including among the sort of progressive younger people who helped the opposition parties sweep to victory on May 14. “I thought they’re meant to move forward,” grumbled Suphamet Hetrakul of Teera Ventures, a cannabis farm owner and wholesaler. “A U-turn will hurt Thailand’s credibility.”
As of March, some 1.1 million people had registered with the government to grow cannabis, though it wasn’t clear if all of them are doing so, or how many people are growing it without registering. Reflecting the outcry over the prospect of tighter rules, some 5,200 people and 200 businesses have signed an online petition that says reclassifying cannabis as a narcotic would be a violation of the rights of the people.
Given the proliferation of shops and growers, let alone users, there have to be questions about any government ever putting the marijuana genie back in the bottle. Move Forward appears to be treading carefully as it plots the future of a business that, according to a projection by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, could be worth $1.2 billion by 2025.
Ms. Sirikanya defended the plan to reclassify marijuana, saying it was necessary to end the legal vacuum. While there would appear to be little prospect of any sort of sweeping crackdown, she said unlicensed street vendors and smuggled imports of the drug would be stopped.