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TUESDAY, November 28, 2023

Legalising cannabis is a journey into the unknown

Legalising cannabis is a journey into the unknown
SATURDAY, June 18, 2022

I personally agree with the research that uncontrolled cannabis intake could do more harm than good. The law allows the use of cannabis within private premises but who will ensure the intake is according to the law.

Amorn Wanichwiwatana
Special to The Nation

The country is now ready for the great reopening and that makes me ponder about my day-to-day life during the pandemic. There are so many memories. For instance, I remember wondering how can I survive the pandemic due to the slow progress of vaccination by the government at the outset? Will the pandemic sweep away our economy? And how will those who lacked good connectivity and reserves live their lives? That’s what I pondered about most of the time, really.

These thoughts were born from examples of the way many nations, including us, fought Covid, be it the developed economies like the US, the UK, China as well as the Third World countries. They fought hard but not well enough in the early stages. The number of infected people and the death toll skyrocketed due to a lack of consensus among experts, and politicians viewing things from different angles. Governments had no choice but to get rid of the virus by any means necessary.

Policies and practices were copied and learned quickly from each country hastily.

That’s the reason I believe that I am so fortunate to survive the pandemic despite the shortage of vaccines at the time. Priority was given to frontline workers and those who had applied and got on the shortlist. That was something absolutely right, but can we ignore the rumour mills of the time! Many said they had jumped the long queues and got vaccinated easily because they knew someone influential. Some social media influencers proudly showed off that they could travel the world to get access through the streamline process of many countries in order to get the mRNA vaccination. In other words, money can buy anything — even your lives and souls if you are filthy rich. The country was never so divided and disparate like this. I had never thought in my generation people would hang small air-purifiers for you to breathe. It made me wonder if I could have survived breathing the toxic air and pollution around us, if I could not afford the device? How come we have to pay for the air to live our lives!

Here is another issue open to debate: the government’s decision to legalise cannabis or ganja and other related weeds. There are a lot of concerns. I personally agree with the research that uncontrolled cannabis intake could do more harm than good. The law allows the use of cannabis within private premises but who will ensure the intake is according to the law.

The government gazette recently announced legal use of this recreational drug. Although the permission attached some restrictions, they seem to be very difficult to enforce. The police and other concerned agencies will only get involved if you smoke weed in public and the smoke of cannabis disturbs the neighbourhood.

I can understand that the government wants to boost the economy following the pandemic and to gain popularity for the approaching general election. Somehow, the idea to partly legalise the drug places a lot of burden on the law enforcers to make quick decisions, in much the same way as the PDPA (personal data protection law) that is still being criticised by members of the public due to its lack of clarity, such as the use of CCTV in public places, the personal information collected by various search engines.

According to my research from several news agencies and the authorities’ websites, Thailand is not the first country to legalise weed, but obviously even free countries like the US and the UK still strictly enforce the law. The US still prohibits cannabis at the federal level; the UK considers cannabis an illegal drug.

Several experts remember the opium war, which the British empire once used to paralyse China and occupy Hong Kong for almost 100 years. I really see things along the same lines. I am pondering if the police could differentiate between cannabis consumers and drunk drivers. People could enjoy the recreational drug without knowing that they might be driving under the influence of a drug. But the drunk driving law mainly focuses on the alcohol abuse.

The country’s lawmakers and the Public Health Ministry have attempted to put forward many new policies, such as the Marriage Equality Bill sponsored by the opposition, the government’s digital lottery ticket, as well as the cannabis law.  I would urge them to carefully evaluate and monitor cannabis use because there is no guarantee that everything will go according to plan. If things come undone, the government must put public health and security above politics.

Chadchart Sitthipan, the Bangkok governor, has been quick to announce a ban on the use of this recreational drug in schools under the BMA supervision. Faster may not always be better. However, I always support rapid action in matters that could bring us something healthier and smarter!

(Amorn Wanichwiwatana, D.Phil. (Oxon), is a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University)