Clash of outlook and culture over Cannabis will now define the Bhumjaithai Party in the months running up to a General Election in Thailand. Aside from the handling of the country’s pandemic emergency by Deputy Prime Minister Anutin, seen by the public as having a devastating impact on the economy, this signature policy achievement of Mr Anutin is also now in the crosshairs of not only opposition parties in parliament but also Minister Anutin’s key coalition partner, the Democrat Party, other MPs on the government benches and indeed some within his own Bhumjaithai Party who also do not support the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use by the public.

Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul insisted on Saturday that to even suggest that Thailand should again criminalise marijuana or cannabis was wrong. He said the new cannabis law defeated in parliament last week was an attempt to change the public’s perception of the drug which he insisted had a bad image and was treated unfairly. His comments were directly contradictory to the opposition Pheu Thai Party which criticised the government’s handling of the issue by proposing a law to outlaw the recreational use of the drug but then failing to deliver. Deputy Pheu Thai Party leader and MP for Maha Sarakham, Sutin Klangsang, said that the drug should never have been decriminalised in June this year after the regulation decriminalising cannabis was signed by Minister Anutin. As it stood last week, he said the new law had no provision making the recreational use of marijuana illegal and that failure to make it illegal, with the current free for all use of the substance, will see even more people jailed as they become addicted to drugs in Thailand.

On Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul spoke at length about last week’s withdrawal of the cannabis bill from parliament when the main opposition Pheu Thai Party joined forces with the Democrat Party to defeat a law promoted by the Bhumjaithai Party which had been promised to control the use of cannabis. The proposed law failed according to Mr Sutin Klangsaeng, the Pheu Thai MP for Maha Sarakham, to have any regard to outlawing the recreational use of the drug. On Saturday, Minister Anutin, while accepting that the move was political, at the same time, appeared to insist that the public will have to change its attitude towards cannabis from traditional thinking on the drug, which is that it is a dangerous gateway to wider drug culture and abuse. Mr Anutin’s position and that of his party, the Bhumjaithai Party, is seen as detrimental to its efforts to win votes in southern Thailand and in other traditional areas which are hostile to drugs. The current vacuum and Minister Anutin’s increasingly radical view on pot is also likely to raise the profile of the issue with anti-drug sentiment running high in some provinces linked with violent and fatal incidents.

The Bhumjaithai Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul appears to be digging his heels in following last week’s sinking of his Cannabis law in parliament and calls from both sides of the House of Representatives to reverse the legalisation on cannabis or marijuana by again putting it on a schedule of controlled narcotics and subjects to strict policing as existed proper to June 9th last when the new status of the drug came into force in the kingdom resulting in an order to police stations from headquarters in Bangkok to stand down in relation to arrests and prosecutions linked to what was up to that date, a highly illegal narcotic.

The minister has been accused in the last few days by the leading opposition Pheu Thai Party of advocating more widespread marijuana use and for leading a political campaign to make the use of the drug widely acceptable.

Minister Anutin, on Saturday, castigated those calling for a return to making the drug an illegal narcotic and said that even calling for such a course of action was wrong.

Anutin intimates that the defeat of the cannabis bill in parliament is linked to politics and oncoming election

He also intimated that the differences over the issue now becoming clear within the coalition government were understandable and pointed out that Thailand will soon find itself in the midst of a General Election campaign.

On Wednesday, a vote on a resolution to withdraw the bill in parliament was passed by 198 to 136 with 12 abstentions with the Pheu Thai Party and the Democrat Party joining forces to defeat it.

This development may not work to the benefit, however, of Minister Anutin who is widely associated by the public in Thailand with the government’s handling of the virus emergency which severely undermined an economy that is not expected to return to former GDP levels until late in 2023.

His outlandish position concerning cannabis policy now puts him at odds not only with the main opposition Pheu Thai Party but also with the Democrat Party, a key coalition partner and many other MPs on the government benches. 

There are also elements within the Bhumjaithai Party who are on record as opposing the recreational use of cannabis.

Determined Anutin on Saturday warned that there can be no going back to making cannabis an illegal scheduled narcotic again saying people will be jailed

Minister Anutin, on Saturday, warned that any move to revert to the legal status quo at the beginning of the year where marijuana was a highly illegal controlled narcotic except for medical use under supervision, could see people who have since been released from prison being rearrested and businesses which had been opened to supply the new market for the substance being closed down.

He suggested that the law presented to parliament was an attempt to usher in a new era of cannabis use where the drug was seen as something other than a highly illicit or dubious substance.

At the same time, the minister, perhaps now realising that this will become a key issue in the next General Election, told reporters that his order to decriminalise the drug was made only following advice from the Narcotics Control Board (NCB) which, ironically, had long resisted any move to decriminalise marijuana or even to liberalise the use of the drug.

Minister’s position is directly at odds with the opposition Pheu Thai Party and the coalition’s Democrat Party on the widespread use of pot

The agency, even since then, has warned the government that the move will lead to friction with Thailand’s international treaty partners and presented a challenge to law enforcement agencies in the kingdom, given the changes the kingdom faces without prohibiting the use of the substance as a controlled narcotic.

The view, now being presented by Minister Anutin, runs directly in contradiction to that of the Pheu Thai Party which has suggested that cannabis should not have been removed by the Ministry of Public Health as an illegal narcotic under schedule 5 before the law that was promised to control the use of the drug by preventing and making illegal its recreational use, was passed by parliament.

On Friday, Mr Sutin Klangsang, an MP of Maha Sarakham province and deputy leader of the Pheu Thai Party, came out to explain his party’s vote against the cannabis bill which was defeated in parliament this week. 

Pheu Thai Party leader insists no other party ever signed up for the widespread legalisation of cannabis and its fully legal recreational use as we see now 

Mr Sutin said Pheu Thai and many MPs within the government and parties other than the Bhumjaithai Party, had never signed on with the proposition that recreational use of the drug, as is now widespread and perfectly legal in Thailand, should be tolerated or become the order of the day.

Mr Sutin differentiated this from the medical use of marijuana which came into force in 2019 and said that the Ministry of Public Health had over two years to plan further moves to liberalise access to the drug for medical use without causing the confusion that now exists over the legality of the substance with growing calls from enraged public interest groups to control it as they claim it sends the wrong message to society about drug culture.

Democrat MPs challenge cannabis free for all linking it with a highly damaging drug culture
Krabi residents urge General Prawit to crack down on drugs as national poll gives him a thumbs down

The deputy Pheu Thai leader said it was clear from the start of last year that the law to be passed by parliament was promised as an instrument to make the recreational use of the drug illegal and it had failed to deliver on this.

‘Disappointing’ cannabis law pursued by Bhumjaithai failed to deliver on what was promised by ministers and that was to outlaw recreational cannabis use

He described it as ‘disappointing’ as it said nowhere within the bill that recreational use of the drug was illegal but instead, driven by the Bhumjaithai Party, the now withdrawn legislation focused on its use in public and other minor issues or potential nuisances.

Cannabis remains illegal as ministers push through a law controlling its use by the public after decriminalisation

He also referred to comments made recently by the minister suggesting that he favours allowing the public to use cannabis for recreational purposes at some later stage despite a commitment from him in parliament in July that the recreational use of cannabis would be outlawed.

Anutin to meet his junior ministerial colleague at the Ministry of Public Health, Democrat Party deputy leader Satit Pitutacha to iron out differences

In the meantime, Minister Anutin said on Saturday that he had scheduled talks with his junior minister at the Ministry of Public Health where many top officials are already on record opposing the current free for all and recreational use of the drug on scientific and health grounds, over the coming week to iron out the differences between the Bhumjaithai Party and the Democrat Party over the issue.

Satit Pitutacha, Deputy Minister of Public Health is also a deputy leader of the Democrat Party who see their opposition to cannabis and the drug culture it represents as a vote winner particularly in the southern provinces, a key battleground in the next General Election and one which Minister Anutin’s Bhumjaithai Party had been targeting.

A poll at the end of June, after the decriminalisation of the drug, showed that while a small majority supported the move on economic grounds, 72% had reservations about the widespread use of cannabis, which the radical crusade led by Minister Anutin had brought into force.’

Anutin says the rejected new law was an attempt to educate the public about cannabis, described traditional Thai attitudes to the drug as old fashioned

Minister Anutin, on Saturday, addressed this and said that the law which was promoted in the assembly by the Bhumjaithai Party, was an attempt to educate the public and make them less concerned about the drug.

He suggested that the image of cannabis in people’s minds was old-fashioned and wrong. He also appeared to insist there was no going back from the revolution he ushered in on June 9th last.

‘The Cannabis and Hemp Bill is needed to help ease the anxiety of people because many still have the perception that cannabis is a narcotic. But cannabis is already delisted from Thailand’s Category 5 narcotics list,’ he insisted.

Country is facing chaos if cannabis is again criminalised and designated as a schedule 5 narcotic warns Deputy Prime Minister, new law must pass

Minister Anutin instead argued again that the proposed new law did not decriminalise marijuana and warned that the kingdom could face chaos over the issue if it is not ultimately passed by the House of Representatives.

‘If the House rejects the bill, many will be affected, such as convicts charged with the illegal use of cannabis, physicians who use cannabis for medication and those who own cannabis-related businesses,’ he claimed. 

These assertions were rejected outright by Pheu Thai Party deputy leader Mr Sutin who said there was no basis for legal retroactive action to be taken by authorities and that there would be no impact on the medical use of cannabis or marijuana if it was again designated as a schedule 5 narcotic substance as before by order of the government or ministerial regulation much the same as the process that Minister Anuntin put in motion earlier in the year but now in reverse.

Position rejected outright by Pheu Thai deputy leader Sutin who says that if drug culture is accepted in Thailand, the jails will not be able to cope

Mr Sutin warned that failure to pursue this course instead runs the risk of even more people being incarcerated because a free for all drug culture is, at this moment, negatively impacting society and lives.

He said Minister Anutin was trying to sow panic.

‘The claim that if marijuana becomes a drug, it cannot be used for medical purposes. It’s not true because Thailand has been using medical marijuana since before 2019, it didn’t need to be fully legalised. That’s just creating panic. Claims that if this law is not passed, people will overwhelm the prisons, or be arrested across the country are intended to create misunderstanding. Clearly, criminal law has no retroactive effect. So there will be no arrests of those who have planted it. But it will only apply to people who will grow it in the future when cannabis is declared an illegal drug again. I am confident that if the time is given in advance, there will be no wrongdoing by the people. On the other hand, if this law is issued separately, people will overflow the prisons, that is, people will take drugs and be addicted to drugs across the country. Crime will follow. Our prisons will not have enough places to hold the number of people.’

Democrat Party leader denies it’s not political

On Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister and Ministry of Commerce Jurin Laksanawisit, the leader of the Democrat Party, decried the claim that politics was the motive behind his party’s decision to scupper the cannabis legislation last week.

‘We are truly concerned about young people using cannabis for recreation,’ he said

‘The Democrat Party supports the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, but not for recreation. When we saw that the bill had a loophole allowing people to use it for recreational purposes, we needed to put a stop to the bill. It is for the future and safety of our young people. I believe other parties also share similar concerns,’ said Mr Jurin.

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Further reading:

Recreational cannabis use can be legalised under the current law being passed through parliament

Recreational use of pot to be recriminalised as Minister warns abuses are undermining his plan

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

Cannabis remains illegal as ministers push through a law controlling its use by the public after decriminilisation

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