Most Thais want marijuana to be recriminalized again: Somsak

TUESDAY, JULY 09, 2024

Public health minister says benefits of reclassifying cannabis and hemp far outweigh decriminalising impacts

Public Health Minister Somsak Thepsutin said on Tuesday that a survey shows that most Thais want marijuana to be reclassified as a narcotic to prevent its impact on young people.

He said the ministry had conducted a public hearing from June 11 to 25 on its plan to add marijuana and hemp to the Category 5 Narcotics list, and learned that more than 80% of the public supported the plan. The public hearing covered some 100,000 people.

Somsak said the results of the survey will be presented to the Narcotics Control Board (NCB) later this month.

If the NCB agrees with the Public Health Ministry’s plan, then it will draft four directives and regulations reclassifying marijuana and hemp as Category 5 drugs, he said.

The drafts will then be submitted to the Cabinet for approval and published in the Royal Gazette if given the go-ahead and implemented on January 1 next year.

During the tenure of the last premier, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, marijuana and hemp were removed from the Category 5 Narcotics list in response to strong lobbying by key coalition partner, Bhumjaithai Party. The party had promised while campaigning for votes during the 2019 election that it would decriminalise marijuana and hemp, so they could be used in the medical industry and as cash crops.

Somsak said in the four draft directives and regulations, cannabis and hemp will be reclassified as drugs with the exception of their branches, leaves, roots and seeds. Cannabis buds and any parts of the plant containing more than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) would be criminalised.

Last week, the Public Health Ministry’s committee controlling illegal drugs voted to back the plan of reclassifying cannabis and hemp.

This plan, however, met strong opposition from the Thailand Cannabis Future Network, which launched a rally outside Government House on Monday and has promised to stay put until its demands are met.

The group alleges that the ruling Pheu Thai Party wants to reclassify the two plants as a drug, so investors close to the party can monopolise the cannabis and hemp business.

Somsak, meanwhile, said he has met the protesters and learned that they want marijuana to remain decriminalised, so they can use it for recreational purposes. They do not care about the impact it will have on the youth and society, he said.

However, he said, though the plants will be reclassified as drugs, they can still be used for medical treatment as prescribed by doctors.

The minister added that hemp and cannabis will possibly not be classified as drugs forever, as future governments or the people may want it decriminalised again.

“But this government believes the drawbacks of decriminalisation far outweigh those of criminalisation,” Somsak said.

He went on to say that he was confident that the reclassification of the two herbs will not affect Pheu Thai’s ties with its coalition partner, Bhumjaithai.

“We believe Bhumjaithai will understand,” the minister said.
On Saturday, Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who is also Bhumjaithai leader, warned the Public Health Ministry to get ready for some difficult questions once cannabis is relisted.

He noted that the ministry’s committee that has voted to relist cannabis as a drug is the same one that agreed to decriminalise it in the first place. Hence, he said, it will need to explain to the public why it has made an about face on the policy.