FRIDAY, April 19, 2024

TDRI: Cannabis laws should be revised to offset negative impacts

TDRI: Cannabis laws should be revised to offset negative impacts

Cannabis legalisation without proper regulation will have significant impacts on the economy, society and public health, according to a Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI)’s study published last week.

In Thailand, the herb was decriminalised for medical use in 2019 and for recreational use in June 2022, to increase alternative medical treatment, reduce reliance on imports, promote Thai traditional medicine, stimulate the economy and generate income for people.

However, the institute’s Nuttanan Wichitaksorn noted during a seminar at Eastin Grand Hotel Sathorn in Bangkok that most people used cannabis for recreational activities like smoking.

He pointed out that a quarter of the 1,017 people aged above 18 years surveyed had been affected in some way by the herb, whether by the cost, decision-making ability, driving performance and increased risk of trying other narcotics.

“Most physicians prescribed cannabis for relieving symptoms due to insufficient clinical evidence on its treatment effectiveness,” he said, adding that children were at risk of becoming new cannabis users.

Pros and cons

The institute’s research director for public health and agriculture, Viroj Na Ranong, said cannabis legalisation has offered alternative treatments for some diseases, such as migraine, malignant tumours, inability to sleep and body pain.

“The number of patients using cannabis increased 4-5 times compared to its legalisation for medicinal use only in February 2019, but many developed an allergy to it,” he said.

The institute researchers also stressed that even though the cannabis legalisation led to an increase in retailers, low-quality products triggered by loopholes in the law could have a negative sentiment on the Thai economy.

A gap in cannabis laws

Even though Thailand already has regulations to supervise the use of cannabis, there are many loopholes that trigger misunderstanding among people, said TDRI head of law reform team, Kiratipong Naewmalee.

The government has already introduced regulations to prevent the impact of cannabis on the Thai population, he added. While Thais are allowed to grow the plant for consumption, they must register via the Public Health Ministry’s “Plook Ganja” (cannabis cultivation) website or smartphone application.

Those who grow or use the herb for commerce, such as in additives to foods, cosmetics and medicine, must request permission from the ministry and other relevant agencies like the Thai Food and Drug Administration.

Various restrictions have also been implemented, including the prohibition of using a cannabis substance with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) of more than 0.2%, and smoking in public areas.

Kiratipong said some people believe registration via the ministry’s website or application allows them to grow herbs for commerce without knowing that they have to request permission from other relevant agencies.

“Cannabis buds could contain THC higher than its substance, but there are no strict regulations on possession and distribution,” he said, adding that there is also no strict screening of cannabis product quality after distribution.

Legalisation should be revised

In a bid to mitigate cannabis and its products’ impact on public health, economy and society, the institute’s researchers advised lawmakers to revise cannabis legalisation as follows:

• Laws: Regulations should be clear in terms of commerce and medicine, and household cultivation should be suspended. Local agencies should take a role in granting permission and in law enforcement. Stores which offer cannabis products should be limited and zoned away from venues with children. Cannabis should not be used as a food additive, especially in sweets that could affect children.

• Clinical trials: The Public Health Ministry should suspend key performance indicators for cannabis-positive efficiency on patients. On the other hand, clinical trials on the use of the herb should be conducted for some diseases like insomnia. Centres for testing the efficiency of cannabis should be set up to seek concrete results.

• Tax measure: Tax should be imposed on cannabis products to mitigate impacts on society and create a price mechanism to reduce consumption. The government should collect tax for the common interest, such as for research and development to seek the herb’s medical benefits, and deal with its impacts.

“There are many mechanisms for health promotion that we need to put in place. The public sector should take part in dealing with the impacts of cannabis on communities,” Nuttanan said.