The cannabis genie is out of the bottle; what now?
This article has no intention to the lay the blame on any political faction that supports the legalisation of cannabis. Somehow I am left wondering if the government policy on cannabis has gone too far. They are even promoting a policy to provide citizens with free plants to 1 million households to start commercial cultivation for medical purposes.
Special to The Nation
Recently, a newspaper headline said that a Thai politician had confirmed that cannabis had been removed from Schedule IV of UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). I could not wait to find out what the truth really was. Many readers might recognise that some weeks ago I had written about marijuana, or cannabis, and asked the concerned parties to ensure there were adequate measures as well as CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) testing devices on hand to enforce the law effectively. But there were no clear responses from any of them.
Recently I did a personal survey regarding the policy on cannabis use when I was admitted to a hospital for nearly a month. The result was very interesting. My query was an open-ended question that sought public opinion about our government’s policy on cannabis. A hundred per cent of those who came to visit me daily, namely doctors, nurses, caretakers and so forth, all disagreed with the policy but totally supported the idea of medical research and healthcare use. These are people working in the medical field in a private hospital that is not under the influence of or controlled by their masters or politicians unlike those in the civil service. So their responses should be more reliable in many ways.
It sounds rather boastful to say that as a university lecturer who taught and did a number of researches for almost 30 years, I am confident that my English is good enough to quickly grasp the fundamental issue and find the words or sentences that must be used to get a response on the Google search engine. When I saw that news headline, the first thought that crossed my mind was, ‘“Is it true or fake news”? I immediately typed a sentence “UN legalises cannabis”. A newsletter from UN news (UN news ‘Law and Crime Prevention’, December 2, 2020), showed up. It stated clearly that the “UN commission reclassifies cannabis, yet still considers it harmful". The report also detailed the outcome of this resolution “with the vote of consent by 27, against by 25 and 1 absenteeism”. I must say that this was a very narrow margin when considering the social impact of the move, but it was not a statistically significant vote to offer the absolute solution of promoting free access to cannabis. The committee said that “the CND has opened the door to recognising the medicinal and therapeutic potential of the drug, although its use for non-medical and non-scientific purposes will continue to remain illegal.”
Meanwhile, the United States voted to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the Single Convention while retaining it in Schedule I (less strict), saying it is “consistent with the science demonstrating that while a safe and effective cannabis-derived therapeutic has been developed, cannabis itself continues to pose significant risks to public health and should continue to be controlled under the international drug control conventions”. (ref. UN news)
Letting numbers be the sole determinant is sometimes tricky. In this sense, the ‘first past the post voting system’ cannot be applied to issues such as this. The vote of the UN committee did not intend to find a clear winner. They wanted to tackle some technical enforcement issues in the law as well as open it up for the medical industry. It is as simple as that!
Clearly, the UN did remove cannabis from the former listing but still retained or reclassified it in a new listing focusing on medical purposes. The way our government, particularly the Public Health Ministry, allowed free access to cannabis is something I must re-emphasise needs to be considered carefully and cautiously.
I saw a video on Tik Tok platform showing a policeman standing still and watching a cannabis seller demonstrate in broad daylight how to use the weed smoking pipe and doing nothing about it.
Another news on Thairath online on July 19 said “Chaos! Police seized 230 kilos of ganja but could not press charges for fear that the accused might sue them”. This reflects a huge problem related to law enforcement, and the poor preparations of the government before launching a policy with immense social impact. They might not realise the consequences of pushing through the policy until it reaches a point of no return.
I told everybody from the start that I have no bias or prejudice towards cannabis uses. Also, this is not a smear tactic targeting any of the concerned parties. However, as an academic with no hidden agenda and nothing to gain, I need to put the country and our public interest above and beyond anything else.
(Amorn Wanichwiwatana, D.Phil. (Oxon), is a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University)