The decriminalisation of marijuana is turning into a major problem for the government with chaos in ministries and agencies responsible including an anxious request to police for enforcement of an older law. On Wednesday, Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul, the architect of the drive to decriminalise the drug, told reporters unequivocally that recreational use of cannabis was still illegal as his ministry attempted to get police to enforce a 1999 law while the minister himself promised that legislation before parliament would again make cannabis as a recreational drug strictly illegal and open the way to effective police enforcement. In the meantime, Mr Anutin warned those abusing the hiatus between legal measures, that they were undermining the signature project of his Bhumjaithai Party in government.

Urgent efforts appear to be underway within the government to roll back the decriminalisation of cannabis in Thailand which came into effect on June 9th last and which is generating increased and heated opposition both within and outside the country’s halls of power with a letter signed by 851 medical practitioners this week and a powerful submission from the minority Muslim Community calling for the decriminalisation of the drug to be reversed. This week, the Minister of Public Health warned sharply that the recreational use of cannabis was still illegal as his department attempted to have the police enforce a 1999 provision. He told reporters that continued abuse of the new law threatened to undermine efforts to develop cannabis as a lucrative cash crop and its success as a licensed additive to food and beverages while also making it available to all those who need it for medicinal purposes. He confirmed that new legislation before parliament will outlaw the now widespread recreational use of the drug in the country and that this was the policy, all along.

The National Police Commissioner General Suwat Jang­yod­suk (right centre) has asked the Ministry of Public Health for time to have legal experts review a letter from the ministry calling for enforcement of a 1999 law which purports to control the use of cannabis as authorities scramble to find a way to rein in uncontrolled recreational use of the drug following the June 9th decriminalisation of marijuana and a growing backlash from influential groups including medical experts and the Muslim community in Thailand. On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul (inset left), emphatically announced that the recreational use of cannabis was still illegal in Thailand and would be controlled further with a new law before parliament which will criminalise smoking of the flower part of the cannabis plant and redesignate it as a narcotic substance.

As the government comes under fire from the medical profession and key sectors of society such as the Muslim community, to rescind its June 9th decriminalisation of marijuana or cannabis, the Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, strongly reaffirmed this week that he was not in favour of legalising cannabis for recreational use and that this was not the goal of the reforms in government led by his Bhumjaithai Party.

On Wednesday, Mr Anutin told reporters that a law being guided through parliament, and currently before the House of Representatives, would again criminalise the use of the drug for recreational use.

Forceful statements from top officials at Anutin’s Ministry of Public Health opposing the recreational use of pot and warning of the health dangers

This follows persistent statements by top officials within Anutin’s own Ministry of Public Health warning that the ministry does not favour and or advocate the use of cannabis for recreational use and pointing to peer-reviewed studies from the United States that show that it is harmful to young adults who use it.

US study in 2019 among 4,000 people shows that cannabis kills and raises the risk of heart disease as well as adverse mental health effects 

At the beginning of July, Napapan Nanthapong of the Bureau of Environmental Health at the Department of Health in Thailand warned that smoking cannabis can cause asthma, bronchitis and pulmonary disease in all users.

Danger of psychological damage to regular users and pulmonary issues highlighted by health official 

She also pointed to extensive US studies by leading institutions which show that the drug causes irreversible psychological damage to regular users and, in particular, to teenagers and young adults who inhale or smoke the substance.

‘It can trigger more problems for patients with mental illness,’ she outlined. ‘Studies show that cannabis smoke can emit PM2.5 at an amount 3.5 times higher than normal cigarettes’

Her views and other similar statements have been shared and repeated by senior officials within the Ministry of Public Health who have also expressed deep concern at the current free for all that has developed in Thailand.

Evidence shows that the regular consumption of more potent cannabis triggers psychosis and addiction

There is increasing and more credible evidence from international studies showing a pronounced link between cannabis with potent levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and mental health issues.

These studies point to areas in the world where cannabis has been legalised but where regulatory enforcement has proved to be deficient leading to rising levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive ingredient in Cannabis, in the products being offered for sale.

Even in Thailand, this is a polarising issue with a large segment of the expat or foreign population living in the kingdom in favour of cannabis being widely made available for recreational use and another cohort who believe the drug is dangerous and should still be prohibited.

10% of the public smoke marijuana for recreational purposes in Thailand, 7% for medical purposes

The latest research in Thailand shows that 10% of the country’s population uses the drug for recreational purposes while 7% use it as a medication.

The Lancet heralds a study as the first systematic review showing a link with mental health issues 

A definitive study, just this week, published in The Lancet Psychiatry has shown that high potency cannabis imbibed regularly does trigger psychosis while an accompanying analysis in Europe and other parts of the world shows that where cannabis has been legalised, the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) potency level has climbed from 10% to 14% in 2010 to 25% to 40% in recent years with authorities failing to regulate the sector after decriminalising the drug.

The study, in conjunction with a range of British universities, was led by the University of Bath which correlated its findings with 20 other studies across the world.

The Lancet heralded the report as the first systematic review that links cannabis to mental health issues and addiction.

‘To our knowledge, this is the first systematic review on the association of cannabis potency and mental health and addiction,’ the publisher stated. ‘Overall, the evidence suggests that the use of higher potency cannabis, compared with lower potency cannabis, is associated with an increased risk of psychosis, and this risk is higher in people who use cannabis daily.’

Irish psychiatrist not surprised, he sees the ‘destructive impact’ of cannabis on a regular basis 

Thailand’s new laws on cannabis specify that the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) level in any cannabis product be not more than 2% and also aims eventually to criminalise the flower of the cannabis plant in a move designed to again outlaw recreational use such as seen in other parts of the world, where the drug has become legally sold across the counter for recreational use where users can attain a cannabis ‘high’.

Dr Bobby Smith, a consultant psychiatrist in Ireland, on Friday, welcomed the latest report saying that it only confirms what he sees every week in his practice concerning ‘the destructive impact’ cannabis has on the lives of young adults.

 ‘This paper finds that higher potency cannabis is more strongly associated with psychotic outcomes than lower potency cannabis. It also finds that the use of higher potency products is associated with a greater risk of addiction. These findings are not a surprise to me,’ he concluded.

National police ask for time to respond to Ministry’s request that it enforces a 1999 law making uncontrolled and widespread cannabis use illegal

This led to an embarrassing situation this week where an effort by the Ministry of Public Health to have another law enforced which its legal experts say does still control and outlaw the more widespread use of the drug which we have seen since June 9th last, appeared to backfire.

It is understood that the National Police Commissioner General Suwat Jang­yod­suk asked for time to analyse the letter from the ministry which according to a police spokesman, Police Major General Yingyot Thepjamnong, required clarification before police could contemplate enforcement.

The letter from the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Public Health Narong Saiwong called for police to take action under the Traditional Medicine Wisdom Protection and Promotion Act (1999) which designates cannabis as a controlled herb.

Temporary measure until key legislation outlawing recreational use makes its way through parliament

This was intended as a temporary measure until the new legal provision before parliament is passed into law which would redesignate the flower of the cannabis plant and other parts as a narcotic substance and effectively outlaw the recreational use of the drug where users smoke these parts of the plant to get a ‘high’ or ‘buzz’ from the drug.

Under the older legislation, proposed this week by the ministry to the police, permits are required to use and process the drug under Section 46 but, according to the police spokesman Police Major General Yingyout, the National Police Commissioner General Suwat has reservations about how this could be practically enforced as he has identified what appear to be critical conflicts which need to be clarified with the ministry. 

‘To prevent public confusion and ensure effective enforcement, the national police chief has asked the Royal Thai Police’s Law and Litigation Office to straighten some issues out with the ministry,’ Police Major General Yingyot explained to the media.

Police left scrambling in June over enforcement of Road Traffic law against drivers high on marijuana

In mid-June, top police officers were left scrambling and expressed serious concern about the enforcement of the Road Traffic Act in Thailand and the protection of road users from drivers under the influence of marijuana with efforts to establish evidentiary requirements to enforce legal provisions against those found to have a high THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) value in their bloodstream.

Police have also, since June 9th 2022, downgraded legal enforcement against those found in possession of large consignments of marijuana.

On Monday night, in Nakhon Phanom province in upper northeastern Thailand, Border Patrol police, led by Police Colonel Chalermchai Srithong, arrested 22-year-old Chirawut Sastrachai of the Tha Uthen district in the province after he picked up 2oo kg of marijuana brought across the Mekong River from Laos.

He had been paid ฿10,000 to move the drug consignment inland but was only charged by police under the Customs Act, Plant Breeding Act and Plant Quarantine Act, a cocktail of offences which could leave him facing a fine or a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison compared to life imprisonment or even the death penalty under the previous legal status of the drug.

Further confusion as 1999 law may also make the medical use of cannabis again illegal if not amended

This week’s move by the Ministry of Public Health has generated further confusion as it may also mean that the 1999 act it has asked the police to consider in an effort to control the popular use of the drug, may also curtail the medical and commercial use of cannabis which is considered to be appropriate under government policy.

These activities may also require licensing and approval under its provisions.

This week, the Director-general of the Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine, Yongyot Thammawut, alluded to this when he said that the terms of this law need to be amended so that it only applies to the use of the flowers of the plant leaving the stem, leaves and roots outside its scope.

‘For the time being, authorities will resort to warnings rather than making arrests, unless the plant is sold for smoking,’ he said. ‘The ministry has made clear its stance on the recreational use of cannabis. Medicinal cannabis will proceed and misuse must be prevented.’ 

Senior senator supports calls to have police enforce existing law to stamp out illegal weed smoking, Minster Anutin agrees even under the excise laws 

The move by the Ministry of Public Health to ask police to rein in cannabis use nationally was fully supported by a senior senator, lawyer and political activist Senator Kamnoon Sidhisamarn.

He warned that, as things currently stand, the use of cannabis for recreational purposes is still illegal in Thailand under the provision pointed out to the Royal Thai Police.

On Wednesday, speaking to reporters, Minister of Public Health Anutin was adamant that the use of cannabis for recreational purposes or the smoking of cannabis flowers, which is currently happening in the kingdom in an uncontrolled manner, was still an illegal activity even on the basis that it is a violation of the country’s excise regulations on the use and consumption of cigarettes.

Developments since June 9th, including popular recreational use, threaten to undermine plans to promote cannabis as an economic and medical boon

Mr Anutin warned that the current trend and developments since June 9th threaten to devalue the legalisation of the cannabis policy promoted by him and his party.

This, in turn, undermines the commercial gains that have already been seen from this policy.

‘Selling cannabis flowers requires a permit and it is impossible for us to grant permits for smoking. Don’t make people devalue cannabis,’ he warned. ‘What would happen to those using cannabis for treatment, or those investing in a business, if the delisting was cancelled?’

And make no mistake, the cancellation of the designation of cannabis as an illegal narcotic is what is being demanded now by medical experts and community leaders throughout Thailand with opinion polls showing the public is highly apprehensive despite majority support for the commercial development of cannabis as a controlled food supplement or for medical health purposes.

Call to introduce emergency regulation to counter the current ‘irresponsible’ situation that has developed

The pressure on the government to reverse course on the decriminalisation initiative was raised further on Monday when no less than 851 doctors, physicians and medical experts allied with the Faculty of Medicine at Ramathibodi Hospital called for the immediate reversal of the decriminalisation move which came into effect on June 9th, at least, until the new law, restricting its abuse, comes into force or until an evaluation of the threat posed to the physical and mental health of young people is made.

Top doctors at Ramathibodi Hospital call for cannabis to be recriminalised and listed again as an illegal narcotic except for controlled medical use 

The initiative was led by Dr Smith Srisont, the President of the Forensic Physician Association of Thailand (FPAT).

Referring especially to younger people, Dr Smith said there was ample scientific evidence to suggest that the widespread use of marijuana or cannabis was injurious to both the bodies and brains of young people.

He said the concerns were real and warranted the immediate reversal of the June 9th decriminalisation of marijuana or cannabis as a narcotic.

In late June, Dr Smith referenced a US study which evaluated the sudden death of 13 people aged from 17 years to 52 who regularly used the drug. 

He specifically differentiated this from the Ministry of Public Health’s move to decriminalise cannabis or marijuana for medical use by those who can clinically benefit from it. 

‘The present situation is a real threat to the health system and public health, in both the short and long term,’ the statement by the doctors read on Monday when released to the press.

Muslim community opposes cannabis use, Islamic leaders in 5 key provinces on Monday promised an all-out campaign through 300 mosques to oppose it

On the same day, senior Islamic leaders in Thailand’s 5 Muslim-dominated provinces in the south of the country, Songkhla, Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Satun, highlighted their concerted opposition to the legalisation of cannabis as a recreational drug.

Their comments came after they received no response to a letter dated July 18th to senior government officials including Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul, the House of Representatives Speaker Chuan Leekpai and the speaker of the Senate to have the decriminalisation of the drug reversed.

The letter was also presented to Provincial offices within the five provinces and addressed to the respective governors.

On Monday, Sakriya Binsaela of the Islamic Committee of Songkhla revealed that senior Muslim leaders across the five provinces were ready to launch a campaign against the legalisation of marijuana or cannabis for recreational use across the Southern region which will include protest actions each Friday through the region’s mosques to lobby the government to reverse course on allowing the current widespread and uncontrolled use of marijuana or cannabis by the public to continue.

Mr Sakriya referred to a definitive statement by the Central Islamic Council of Thailand against the recreational use of the drug and its widespread availability.

‘The central council said the use of cannabis for recreation, like drinking alcohol, was against Islamic principles. Its use was allowed only for medical purposes,’ he explained.

The Muslim leadership supported by 25 organisations, will make its voice heard at 300 mosques across the region in opposition to marijuana use.

Bhumjaithai Party has not seen much political gain from marijuana or cannabis legalisation and may lose further as public opposition and fears grow

The extended decriminalisation of marijuana, which came into effect on June 9th, saw a small bump in support for the Bhumjaithai Party in National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) opinion polls conducted in March 2022 to June 2022 which saw the party rise from under 2% support in three months to 2.65% in the latest poll.

It is all a far cry from the 10.33% that the party garnered in the 2019 General Election with 5 million votes and comes as the party is hoping to gain seats in the South, formerly a stronghold of the Democrat Party.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the move may be backfiring.

72% of the Thai public express concern about the unrestricted use of cannabis for recreational purposes and other concerns as a new law is waited upon

In the last opinion poll in late June, 72% of Thai people expressed concerns about the harmful impact of cannabis use and developments since the drug was legalised despite majority support for the commercial development of the drug and its use for medicinal purposes.

Warnings as fears grow over recreational cannabis use as Thai man is left impotent by self-harm act
Cannabis remains illegal as ministers push through a law controlling its use by the public after decriminalisation

The current unease being expressed even within the Ministry of Public Health itself, as well as officials and across many government agencies in addition to influential bodies of public opinion such as the Muslim community and medical experts, means that the government, at the very least, needs to prioritise the law promised in January 2022 to criminalise the recreational use of marijuana and restrict its widespread use for Thailand to again comply with its international treaty obligations as promised at that time by Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam.

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Further reading:

Warnings as fears grow over recreational cannabis use as Thai man is left impotent by self-harm act

Marijuana revolution and overdoses raise concern with calls for action to outlaw recreational use

Legal pot does not appear to be working for Anutin’s Bhumjaithai Party in latest opinion poll

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