Wednesday’s ultimatum by Democrat Party MPs to the government and the Bhumjaithai Party attempts to call a halt to a rolling process which has led to a free for all concerning cannabis or marijuana use which was not what was promised or outlined at the start of the year when the cabinet voted to make access to the drug for medical use easier and broader. It is coming at a time when the scourge of illegal drugs is ravaging poorer or vulnerable parts of society in Thailand, particularly in southern provinces where there is a grassroots movement in some areas against drugs and drug culture which the legalisation of cannabis has come to represent in recent months.
MPs in the Democrat Party, the country’s oldest political movement and part of the government, have thrown the gauntlet to the Bhumjaithai Party and the government over the handling of the decriminalisation of cannabis which they claimed has not conformed to plans outlined at the beginning of the year when the country was assured that the recreational use of the drug would still be strictly illegal and prohibited by law. The move on Wednesday comes with rising concern among the public in the kingdom’s southern provinces since the drug has, in practice, been legalised for all forms of personal use. Crime and antisocial behaviour linked with illegal drugs have become key political issues. The MPs on Wednesday told reporters that the cannabis policy being pursued by the government is sending the wrong message to younger generations that drug taking was now acceptable, a situation which they said was highly damaging for society.
The Democrat Party, a key coalition partner, has called for a complete rollback of this year’s marijuana or cannabis revolution which has led to the widespread legal use of the once-scheduled narcotic and even its sale in public from shops and stallholders.
This year’s legal moves by the government led by the Bhumjaithai Party to decriminalise cannabis included the introduction of legislation that is currently being vetted in parliament.
It started with the declassification of the drug as a scheduled narcotic by an order signed by the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul earlier in the year and which came into force on June 9th last.
Opposition to the proposed new cannabis regime at the outset from officials on the basis that it would open the door to unbridled use of the drug
There has long been scepticism among government agencies and officials at the highest level as to how the new legal regime would work without allowing unbridled use of the drug.
In January, the government agreed to this but strictly on the basis that recreational use of the drug would be prohibited and regulated by new legislation while its THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) would be kept at well below the level seen in the then highly illegal weed for sale on the streets.
Strength of tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in cannabis will be set at an ultra-low level
This is not how things have transpired.
Call to reverse the process on Wednesday from Democrat Party, a coalition partner on the basis that the proposed law fails to prevent recreational use
The call to recriminalise cannabis use by the Democrat Party came on Wednesday afternoon after a meeting of the party to review the proposed legislation which is increasingly seen by many analysts as failing to regulate the drug and quite to the contrary, allowing a provision and a legal framework for its complete legalisation including recreational use at some point in the future even while the current de facto position because of policy decisions and implementation is that cannabis and its use for recreational purposes are now completely legal in Thailand except for minor legal provisions, enforceable through secondary laws, concerning where it can be smoked and the control of cannabis smoke as a public health nuisance.
Indeed the new legal provision being reviewed by the House of Representatives appears to copperfasten this situation while providing a mechanism to make what is currently legal in practice, also legal in theory.
The Democrat Party’s new position was announced by several MPs after the meeting who also referred to growing concerns about the drug situation nationally following disturbing incidents throughout the country in recent weeks which have alarmed the public.
MPs vow to vote against the law in parliament
On Wednesday, 4 MPs outlined the view of the Democrat Party after the meeting and warned that the key coalition party was now prepared to vote against the cannabis bill in parliament if it proceeds.
The position was voiced by Trang MP and former minister at the Prime Minister’s Office during the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, Mr Satit Wongnongtaey as well as MPs for Krabi, Ms Pimrapee Panwichatkul and Sakhon Kiewkhong as well as high profile party-list MP, Issara Seriwattanakul.
‘We would like the committee vetting the bill to withdraw it for review so that it could be amended in line with an altered version of the Ministry of Public Health’s announcement,’ declared Mr Satit. ‘If the House insists on continuing with the deliberation of the bill, the Democrat Party will vote against it.’
First and most serious coalition government breach on legislation has its roots in a growing populist anti-drug movement in provinces such as Krabi
The announcement is the first significant and open breach on legislation within the coalition government and comes just days after an ultimatum was given to a senior security official by Krabi residents threatening to launch a significant protest campaign against the government’s handling of what it calls a crisis in the southern province after the death of three high school student at the hands of a drug-crazed small businessman last week who had taken methamphetamine pills and a later violent attack on a highly respected elderly poet and artist also in Krabi.
The 83-year-old Monora performer known as ‘Yai Khaem’ or ‘Gandama Kaem’ was attacked by an intoxicated man with a machete who struck her in the neck.
The revered figure had recited the famed Monora, a treasured Thai love story, to acting Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan on his visit to Krabi last week.
Muslim community in southern Thailand is organising against the new cannabis dispensation, a situation that could damage the Bhumjaithai Party
There is also growing opposition in the southern provinces to the decriminalisation of cannabis among the kingdom’s Muslim community where key religious leaders see it as encouraging people to consume the substance for recreational use.
Political analysts suggest that the campaign to legalise marijuana will backfire on the Bhumjaithai Party in the next election with growing signs that the Democrat Party is regaining control over its former stronghold.
The Bhumjaithai Party, in the last extensive National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) opinion poll conducted nationally in Thailand, stood with only 2.5% support or a quarter of what it polled in the 2019 General Election while the Democrat Party nationally, retains 8% support.
Parliamentary party meeting heard reports of a rise in mental illness and violence linked with uncontrolled recreational use of marijuana or cannabis
On Wednesday, after their parliamentary party meeting, Mr Satit told reporters that the assembly of MPs from around Thailand heard reports of a rise in people using cannabis for recreational purposes and later developing mental illnesses or disorders which have led to violence.
He called urgently upon Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health to come up with stronger measures to rein in the recreational use of the substance which is now widespread and suggested that it again be placed on the schedule of prohibited drugs making it subject to strong police enforcement as before.
He reiterated his party’s support for the medical use of cannabis but underlined that it must be strictly limited to that.
New marijuana bill in parliament rejected by Democrat Party MPs as doing the opposite of what was intended and promised earlier this year
He said that a review by MPs of the draft bill being proposed for a second reading in parliament suggested that it was designed to facilitate the recreational use of the drug by the public.
This would be contrary to the basis on which the decriminalisation of the drug was agreed upon by the cabinet in January and to the assurances given by Deputy Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul in July while addressing parliament when similar reservations were expressed across the house during a censure debate.
Cannabis remains illegal as ministers push through a law controlling its use by the public after decriminalisation
Mr Satit warned that the current legal provisions and the existing situation were having an adverse impact on Thai society.
Violence in Krabi linked with drugs raised by Democrat Party MP Pimrapee Panwichatkul saying the government’s policy sends the wrong message
His colleague Pimrapee Panwichatkul, an MP from Krabi raised the subject of the horrific attacks in that province over the last week that have perturbed the population.
She noted that cannabis was now freely available in an unacceptable manner beyond the control of authorities as law enforcement and legislation proposed to remedy this situation, does nothing of the sort.
She said that the move to decriminalise cannabis was sending the wrong message to society and particularly to young people.
It was creating a positive attitude towards drug culture, particularly marijuana and this was wrong.
She warned that it was having a deeply negative impact on young people in her province and across Thailand.
Bhumjaithai Party spokesman reacts to the broadside
Bhumjaithai Party spokesman Paradorn Prisnananthakul came out to deal with the broadside from his party’s coalition partner on Wednesday.
He pointed to the approval of parliament earlier this year for the move to delist cannabis as a scheduled narcotic by his party leader, the Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul.
He said the Democrat Party had voted for this and had supported the plans to make cannabis freely available for medical use.
Amendment in parliament through a committee can usher in a new era of legal recreational use of the drug once the public understands it, Anutin said
He suggested that the bill before parliament was designed to do this and its failure would lead to a legal vacuum.
‘The bill being deliberated on is intended to provide clear guidelines for the use of cannabis. If this legislation were dropped, there would be a vacuum regarding the use of cannabis,’ Mr Paradorn explained.
Unwieldy and ambiguous proposed new law does not effectively prohibit recreational use of marijuana which is what was clearly promised earlier this year
However, the unwieldy nature of the legislation with a multitude of amendments and alterations as well as its ambiguous posture has raised eyebrows as it has progressed through parliament under the guidance of a committee led by Mr Supachai Jaisamut, a veteran politician of the Bhumjaithai Party.
There has also been a clear statement from the Bhumjaithai Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Mr Anutin Charnvirakul that the bill does provide a basis for full legalisation of the drug in the future by parliament through an amendment procedure by a parliamentary committee.
Political gauntlet thrown down to Bhumjaithai Party
Nevertheless, the Democrat Party has now thrown down the gauntlet in its opposition to the process.
It is a move which is likely to have political implications, particularly with growing public apprehension caused by the widespread availability of cannabis and a groundswell of opposition in the country’s southern provinces.
An extensive poll in June, weeks after the drug was liberalised, showed that 72% of the Thai public have reservations linked to the danger posed by cannabis to the public if widely used for recreational purposes.
Backlash begins against the full legalisation of cannabis for recreational and widespread use even though a majority of Thais agree with deregulation
This apprehension is supported by authoritative medical studies which have proved a clear link between serious mental health issues and the drug across all age groups.