Thailand is now entering into a grey area until growing cannabis at home becomes legal but after this, it will be controlled by a new law, now being pushed through parliament that will aim to severely restrict the consumption and sale of cannabis and associated products.

Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister, Wissanu Krea-ngam, this week, warned those seeking to get high on cannabis, that recreational use of the drug in Thailand remains strictly illegal. He explained that a new law being pushed through parliament will regulate the use of cannabis including requiring anyone who deals in the substance to obtain a licence and specifying that the strength of cannabis product be well below the level normally associated with users getting high on the illegal drug. The government’s legal experts referred to Thailand’s international commitments to control the use of the drug. ‘The bill will show the country remains vigilant and committed to keeping the use of cannabis in check.’ he said. Mr Wissanu also highlighted the difficulty the government and law agencies will face in controlling recreational cannabis use under the proposed new regime following significant moves this week to decriminalise what, for now, remains a Category 5 narcotic. 

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has warned marijuana users, in the kingdom, to hold off on openly using the still proscribed drug for recreational purposes at this time. It comes after new groundbreaking regulations were approved this week which will eventually decriminalise the narcotic. Mr Wissanu warned that such activity is still strictly illegal with severe legal provisions in force, which could lead to consequential jail terms for those caught using or dealing with the substance. It has emerged that the government is planning to push through a new law that will strictly restrict both the personal use of cannabis and its commercial use by private interests, over the coming 4 months. The legislation aims to make sure that Thailand meets its international commitments to help control and regulate the use of the narcotic both within and without its borders.

Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, on Wednesday, implored would-be cannabis users not to openly smoke the still prohibited substance until a range of regulatory and legislative measures come into force over the coming four months or so.

It follows a series of groundbreaking moves that culminated on Tuesday last when the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) gave the green light to recommendations from the Ministry of Public Health and removed Cannabis in all its forms from the kingdom’s list of narcotic substances. Cannabis has long been listed as a Category 5 prohibited substance.

New regime agreed will not come into effect for 120 days after its publication in the official Royal Gazette

However, Mr Wissanu, the government’s top legal expert, told reporters that the new measures will not be in effect until 120 days after the new regulations are published in the Royal Gazette.

Use of cocaine and cannabis is still highly illegal in Thailand with very serious legal consequences

This will happen after the final regulations are signed by the Bhumjaithai Party leader and Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul.

Minister Anutin has pushed for the decriminalisation and home use of marijuana since coming to power in 2019 and the issue was a key part of the manifesto of his party in the run-up to the last General Election.

Violators can still be jailed for up to 15 years

In the meantime, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu warned that anyone using the drug or found in possession without approval from government bodies for medical or research purposes as allowed under current legislation, will still face prosecution and could face up to 15 years in prison.

‘Just hold your horses for the time being,’ he urged.

He particularly directed his message at anyone considering smoking pot for recreational purposes in the meantime.

‘Until the law is cleared, caution should be exercised,’ he explained. ‘It isn’t something that can be done freely.’

Law being rushed through parliament to allow for a new controlled regime allowing cultivation at home 

Mr Wissanu also explained that a new law will be introduced into parliament and passed before the new regulations come into play to specify and limit the use of cannabis to ensure that Thailand conforms with its obligations under several international conventions.

Under the proposed new legal regime for the use of cannabis, it is thought that the cultivation of up to 6 plants for personal use will be allowed by the government provided that the plants have been notified to local authorities.

A licence from the local government authority will be required to cultivate cannabis for commercial purposes and the new law and regulation will specify that any cannabis extract may not have a THC value in excess of 0.2, which is quite low.

Strength of tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in cannabis will be set at an ultra low level

THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol which measures the potency of cannabis by weight.

Many recreational users of cannabis, who currently illegally enjoy a high from the drug, use products with a THC ranging from 0.3 to 4% while some especially cultivated and very powerful forms of the drug can have a THC of up to 25%.

Referring to the new law that is believed to be pending, on Wednesday, Mr Wissanu said: ‘The bill will show the country remains vigilant and committed to keeping the use of cannabis in check.’

Indeed, there is still some doubt whether the government can navigate what are going to be difficult and choppy waters between complying technically with the international conventions that Thailand signed up to from 1961 to 1990 and allowing the recreational use of cannabis on a highly restricted basis driven by the populist policies of the Bhumjaithai Party, a key coalition partner.

Difficult task for the government to balance its commitment to international treaties and the new populist cannabis regime pushed by Bhumjaithai MPs

On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu accepted that this would be the case saying that the challenge would be a difficult one with a balance being sought by officials.

Although the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) signed off on the red tape this week to move towards decriminalising marijuana or cannabis, it has long been seen as a bastion of opposition towards the liberal agenda being pursued by Minister Anutin and the Bhumjaithai Party.

Thailand is also an extremely conservative society with a large segment of the population resolutely opposed to drug use and indeed, also, widespread alcohol use.

Anonymous sources within government agencies also suggest that there is some scepticism and apprehension about the latest moves.

Former top state agency official and narcotics expert sees potential conflict with international partners

In the last week, Mr Viroj Sumyai, an accepted expert on controlled substances, former senior official with Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration and past President of the International Narcotics Control Board from 2017 to 2019, has advised that allowing households to cultivate cannabis plants is fraught with difficulty. He says it is likely to lead to conflict with international bodies such as the United Nations.

Mr Wissanu, at the same time, said that the law which will introduce controls on the use and production of cannabis in Thailand will go some way to bolstering Thailand’s position concerning its ongoing legal commitments under the key conventions on restricting the use of narcotics worldwide.

3 significant international conventions were signed by Thailand between 1961 and 1988 on narcotics control including cannabis but there is wiggle room

These are the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs which seeks to prevent the production and distribution of narcotics including marijuana and cocaine. 

It calls for cooperation between countries to help stamp out activities linked with drug trafficking in the substances. This United Nations accord came into effect on the 8th of August 1975.

The 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances signed in Vienna which came into effect in 1976, includes Thailand among 34 countries that signed up to the suppression of a wide range of depressants and stimulants which include ketamine, amphetamine and tetrahydrocannabinol which is the active ingredient in cannabis.

Then, there is the 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances also signed in Vienna and which came into effect in 1990.

1988 pact a response to cocaine and marijuana use worldwide in the 70s and 80s empowering criminals

This gave added legal weight to the 1961 treaty and has been signed by 190 nations including Thailand.

The convention was specifically a response to the rise of recreational drugs such as marijuana and cocaine in the 1970s and 1980s.

This empowered major crime organisations who began operating on a global scale prompting a coordinated international response.

While the focus was on controlling the international distribution and proliferation of such drugs, the conventions also envisaged domestic legislation to counter the possession and use of such substances in countries that were signatories to the pact.

Legal experts have suggested that there is some room to wiggle in the wording of the 1988 treaty in that it bows to constitutional imperatives and significant legislation in each country. It referred itself to the goals outlined in the 1961 treaty.

It specifically suggested that if the treaty violated the constitution of any individual country then such measures would not be binding on the country.

New law will make the new cannabis regime less of a free for all and reimpose very necessary restrictions

It is already clear that the new laws and regulations being ushered in by Thailand including those signed this week and the legislation being moved through the House of Representatives is not a free for all when it comes to the use of marijuana.

As well as specifying a low level of THC, the new law will impose a fine of up to ฿20,000 for anyone growing cannabis and not notifying authorities while those found dealing in the drug without an appropriate licence will face up to 2 years in prison and or a fine of ฿300,000.

On the other hand, Thailand’s new cannabis regime has already allowed for the production of medical cannabis and the manufacture of consumer products from cannabis extracts, all undertaken under the new legal regime and giving birth to a new commercial industry.

It is envisaged that further liberalisation and exploitation of the legislation will see the new cannabis industry in the kingdom flourish from a reported income of ฿280 million last year to ฿7.6 billion by 2025.

Challenge facing law enforcement agencies ahead with new laws to enforce while still controlling drug importation activities across the country’s borders

The scale and complexity of the challenge facing Thai law enforcement agencies over the coming months will be high but this week the Provincial Police in Nakhon Phanom in northeastern Thailand, made the state’s intentions clear when the Mekong Riverine unit intercepted a long tail boat crossing over from Laos into Thailand with 2000 slabs of marijuana resin weighing 2000 kg.

Police Lieutenant General Sombat Chuthanom, a local police commander, revealed that one man was arrested in the swoop.

The police officer highlighted the rise of such incidents over the last year and attributed this to a more pressing economic climate.

The police chief said that, earlier in the month, police had seized a further 2 tons of drug product with frequent arrests.

He pointed out that even if cannabis was made legal for restricted personal use in Thailand, it would remain illegal to transport large shipments of cannabis resin across borders due to both custom’s laws and new legislation regulating the future sale and distribution of cannabis and associated products.

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