The panoramic view at the Asia International Hemp Expo held on the lush premises of Bangkok’s Queen Sirikit National Convention Center took everyone’s breath away — an unprecedented sight of cannabis plants proudly on display. This momentous visual took place in November of the previous year, a photograph that continues to capture imaginations and spark debates around the world. (Photo credit: Somchai Poomlard)
Navigating through the twists and turns of these debates, the government is currently grappling with the burgeoning cannabis industry, contemplating stricter controls to skirt potential misuse. The motivation behind this revision of the draft bill, previously floundered during the anxious times leading to the elections in May. The main spark behind the drastic changes in the text is primarily to address increasing concerns over likely cannabis addiction, as relayed by Public Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew’s crucial statement.
“Myriad aspects related to cannabis come into play — economic implications and health outcomes; however, it’s safe to say that health priorities take precedence,” Srikaew had famously mentioned, although he remained tight-lipped about any plans of prohibiting recreational cannabis use.
Will it be banned or tolerated? This question looms large and continues to haunt the businesses spawned in the golden era following cannabis decriminalisation. An atmosphere of uncertainty reigns as countless enterprises hustle for transparency, keen to know their fate in the industry.
Srikaew further elaborated the heavy revisions of the draft bill — stringent measures to fill up unanticipated loopholes leading to recreational marijuana use, a set of renewed guidelines for cultivation practices, and clearly outlined criminal penalties. The revised bill will likely approach the cabinet for a nod of approval by December.
Why the sudden need for a rewrite? Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin had pledged to shrink down marijuana use specifically to practice medicine. This promise was propounded following the unprecedented mushrooming of marijuana dispensaries all over the country. The number started escalating rapidly when Thailand achieved the unique status of being the first Asian country to decriminalize cannabis.
Unfortunately, the absence of stringent regulation after the removal of marijuana from the list of narcotics in June last year led to a proliferation of dispensaries — extending to a whopping estimate of 6,000 — sprawled all over the nation. These outlets offer everything from cannabis buds to oil extracts having a THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) content of less than 0.2% — the compound causing the much-talked-about “high” sensation to its consumers.
The Pheu Thai Party’s emergence with a staunch anti-drug campaign before the May 14 elections projected a hard stand to reclassify cannabis as a narcotic. This proposal was in a rather exciting coalition with the 71-seat Bhumjaithai Party, led by Anutin Charnvirakul. The Bhumjaithai Party was responsible for the initial thrust to decriminalize cannabis when it was a part of the previous government.
However, the revised draft bill is yet to undergo a detailed analysis, and the government is in the process of receiving feedback from multiple stakeholders. It is expected that by next month, final changes to the text will have been made based on the all-incorporating feedback. (Editorial advice: It might be wise to draft separate laws to regulate hemp products)