Cannabis policy is turning into an electoral nightmare for the Bhumjaithai Party with growing public opposition to the recreational free for all and the easy access to it being seen throughout the country, something that is now being plugged into by opposition parties and activist firebrand Chuwit Kamolvisit. This opposition is bolstered by growing and highly credible medical evidence suggesting both mental and physical health problems of a serious nature are linked to the regular use of cannabis. In November, an authoritative Lancet published study showed firm evidence of mental health deterioration linked with pot use across all age groups but particularly among young adults while just this week a substantial study in California compared the use of pot to using tobacco with both activities causing inflammation and impacting the body’s cardiovascular system.
Chuwit Kamolvisit has thrown down the gauntlet to the Bhumjaithai Party and called for the May General Election to become a referendum on the widespread recreational use of cannabis or marijuana in the kingdom. He said he would declare victory in his challenge if the Bhumjaithai Party was kicked out of government after the poll. It comes after Pheu Thai Party’s potential nominee for prime minister, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, told a bigger-than-expected crowd in the Bhumjaithai Party’s heartland of Buriram on Sunday that a vote for her party was a vote for sweeping the province clean of all narcotics including cannabis and its harmful effect on Thai children.
A buoyant Pheu Thai took the General Election fight into the heartland of the Bhumjaithai Party’s support base on Sunday last when large numbers of the faithful turned out to hear key leaders of the country’s biggest political party including the leader Dr Cholnan Srikaew and presumed prime ministerial nominee Paetongtarn Shinawatra.
The rally came as the Buriram-based Bhumjaithai Party, which is competing in 75 provinces across the country is coming under pressure with flagging poll results suggesting that the party is seen increasingly as a prop for keeping General Prayut Chan ocha in power.
Voters also, nationwide, are taking a stance against the controversial cannabis policy of the party pushed doggedly by party leader Anutin Charnvirakul which since June 2022 has seen the drug legalised and freely available throughout the kingdom.
Pot or ‘weed’ is now being used widely for recreational purposes without legal sanction in a country that for the last eight decades was seen as a bastion of conservatism in opposition to illegal narcotics.
Pheu Thai Party on the hunt for a landslide and looking for house seats in the Bhumjaithai Party stronghold of Buriram with a strong turnout
The Buriram rally initially heard party leader Dr Cholnan calling on the large crowd gathered in their thousands to come out and help elect a Pheu Thai government in May with a landslide of over 250 seats so that it can sidestep the now time-limited constitutional voting powers of the unelected Senate which is thought likely to support either General Prayut Chan ocha, the assumed candidate for the surging Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) and his ‘brother in arms’ and leader of the languishing Palang Pracharat Party for the position of prime minister.
However, when Ms Paetongtarn came onto the stage, she reminded the audience that she was currently campaigning while being a pregnant mother and told the larger-than-expected crowd that she didn’t want her child growing up in Thailand where illegal narcotics were distributed everywhere.
She told the Buriram crowd that the current government’s marijuana or cannabis policy which has legalised the drug has made the problems posed by the scourge of narcotics on society in Thailand even worse than it used to be since last year.
Paetongtarn Shinawatra promises to sweep Buriram clean of all narcotics including recreational marijuana
She promised her audience that a Pheu Thai-led government would wipe out illegal drugs in Buriram including the recreational use of marijuana.
‘I don’t want cannabis to be easily available,’ Ms Paetongtarn declared.
In the last general election, the Bhumjaithai Party established its support base in Buriram, the home of the influential Chidchob family by taking all the eight house seats in the province.
In this election, there are 10 proposed Buriram constituencies and with Bhumjaithai struggling in the polls, the enthusiastic and well-attended rally on Sunday is a warning to the party that it can take nothing for granted in this electoral contest.
Bhumjaithai in fifth place in a Songkhla poll published on Sunday with 7.55% support. Pheu Thai Party second on 19%. The Democrat Party led with 23.46%
In Songkhla, over the weekend, a reputable National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) poll showed the party on 7.55% or in fifth place compared with 19% for Pheu Thai and 23.46 % for the Democrat Party which has emerged in this election as a champion in the fight against the deregulation of cannabis, seen as spearheaded by the Bhumjaithai Party which has caused alarm among MPs and the public in rural provinces and particularly in southern Thailand.
Pressure on the Bhumjaithai Party is growing following revelations in parliament during a Section 152 debate in February for which Mr Chuwit Kamolvisit supplied the opposition parties and associated MPs, notably Rangsiman Rome of the Move Forward Party, with confidential dossiers.
This led to Mr Chuwit making his own submissions to the government regarding alleged irregularities within the Ministry of Transport in particular related to mass transit contracts in Bangkok and specifically the Orange Line in the city.
Chuwit turns up the heat on Bhumjaithai as House of Representatives petition sees Constitutional Court suspending Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob
The whistleblower has elaborated on these claims in recent days following the suspension of the Minister of Transport and key Bhumjaithai Party minister Saksayam Chidchob by the Constitutional Court last week under Section 82 following claims that the minister breached Section 187 of the constitution by having control or influence over a commercial entity.
This week, Mr Chuwit insisted that the company involved was in receipt of contracts from the government and the Ministry of Transport while he has also made more detailed allegations concerning the Orange Line project and questioned the actions of the State Railway of Thailand which evicted 35 people living near the Khao Kradong Forest Park in Buriram following a Supreme Court decision in 2018 but, at the same time, did not act against lands occupied and utilised by the Chidchob family.
Activist promises more exposés linked with Ministry of Transport projects in Bangkok and Buriram
The activist, former massage parlour boss and politician who has been jailed three times, has indicated that he has further information to support his claims relating to contracts awarded by the Ministry of Transport with links to Bangkok Orange Line mass transit system and offered a titbit to reporters.
He said his information relates to 5 people who were in control of a scheme to funnel monies from the public budget for the benefit of private interests.
Finally, Mr Chuwit, following an extraordinary outburst last week after a marijuana retail concession at his Davis Hotel, in the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok, was inspected by Ministry of Public Health officials, has launched an all-out campaign against the current free of all relating to the recreational use of cannabis.
Mr Chuwit accused the Bhumjaithai Party of pursuing a crusade to legalise cannabis through ministerial deregulation of the drug, moving it outside the scope of criminal enforcement without first passing the necessary legislation to control the use and sale of cannabis under the new dispensation.
Anutin’s decriminalisation of pot only part of a plan proposed in January 2022, led to a parliamentary revolt and to it becoming a political issue
The original proposal submitted to the cabinet in January 2022 was for a dual approach to deregulating cannabis use and production which was dealt a blow in September when a revolt in parliament led by the Democrat Party instigated by its MPs, led to the cannabis bill being voted down after it became clear that the proposed law, crafted by the Bhumjaithai Party, was a trojan horse which included a provision allowing for the full legalisation of the recreational use of the drug in due course through a parliamentary committee process if passed.
This came despite Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul insisting last year that his party was opposed to the recreational use of the drug and painting it as an advertisement for foreign tourism.
Since then, the Bhumjaithai Party has been on the back foot because of cannabis on which public opinion is turning against the widespread use and sale of marijuana in public places and especially to minors.
Bhumjaithai Party on the defensive over cannabis when it thought, mistakenly, it would be a vote winner
The defensive posture even led to a Bhumjaithai Party candidate running for election in Bangkok recently making the convoluted claim to urban voters whose lives are blighted by drug crime, that legalisation of marijuana was a means of preventing young people from becoming hooked on crystal methamphetamine which is flooding the country and has led to a crisis in the kingdom.
The argument holds little water with over four in five Thai people who do not use marijuana.
The controversial campaign appears to have backfired on Mr Anutin as those who support marijuana are a small minority and less likely to vote.
Last year, a National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) poll showed that 72% of Thai people were concerned about the new cannabis free for all in Thailand while 54% agreed with the economic principle of allowing farmers to make money from the crop.
The data showed that 10% of Thai people including foreigners are weed users for recreational purposes with only 7% using it for medical purposes.
The drug by its nature is also likely to be used by citizens who are averse to voting while conservative activists have been galvanised by what is seen as an assault on law and order, the family and in the south, on religious grounds with the Muslim community vehemently opposed to it.
Virulent opposition to cannabis from the medical community with data showing its negative impact
Doctors in Thailand, across the medical establishment, including senior officials at the Ministry of Public Health run by Mr Anutin, have come out to strongly voice their alarm at the wholesale availability of the drug on Thailand’s streets since June 2022 as a result of Minister Anutin’s deregulation order.
These figures include Dr Smith Srisont the influential Head of the Forensic Physician Association of Thailand (FPAT) who has organised large petitions signed by medics opposing the current state of affairs and who only last month warned about the dangers of cannabis-infused sweets being sold to children in Bangkok.
Another physician, Dr Muhammad Fahmee Talib of Prince of Songkla University’s Faculty of Medicine in a controlled study released in November 2022, showed that ER admissions in Thailand had risen 566% since the deregulation in June 2022 with confirmed deaths from overdosing on the substance.
Chuwit Kamolvisit laid down the gauntlet this week. The General Election is to be a referendum on legal pot and its promotion by the Bhumjaithai Party
This week, Mr Chuwit Kamolvisit has promised to lead a campaign in opposition to the deregulation of cannabis and has called for the public to use the May 7th General Election as a referendum on the issue stating that if the Bhumjaithai Party and its controversial leader Deputy Prime Minister Anutin are ejected from office then it will be a signal that Thailand rejects the situation in the country that has existed since June 2002 and wants to see the drug outlawed again for recreational use.
He said he wants to see, at the very least, the situation tightened up.
Mr Chuwit also questioned the value of the drug to Thai farmers saying that much of the cannabis being sold in Thailand was being imported from California something that is disputed by operators in the nascent Thai cannabis industry which says its marijuana products are predominantly grown in Thailand.
Regular users of the drug for both medical and recreational use have indicated that since the new dispensation came into effect, the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) value or the psychoactive part of the marijuana for sale in Thailand has shot up making the pot on sale potentially more dangerous to new or inexperienced users.
They also say that the price of purchasing weed in the kingdom has also increased despite its widespread availability and easy access.
These claims have not been objectively confirmed by a proper survey or detailed analysis.
Chuwit says kids in the country are smoking weed openly because of the difficulty in enforcing the legal situation created by Deputy Prime Minister Anutin
‘Look at the shops along Khao San Road, in communities and elsewhere in the provinces, you will see kids smoking pot openly and the police can’t do anything due to ambiguity in laws used to control cannabis use,’ said Mr Chuwit in recent days as he launched his all-out campaign against legal cannabis for recreational use and the Bhumjaithai Party.
He also questioned the haphazard nature of Mr Anutin’s marijuana revolution which upended decades of a war against the drug with the stroke of a pen and left Thailand possibly in breach of its United Nations treaty obligations to control the substance.
‘The irony is while the United Nations still considers cannabis a narcotic drug and Thailand has joined the UN’s pact on narcotics control, the country suddenly decriminalised cannabis using a single ministerial regulation,’ he announced.
Responding to growing claims this week that Mr Chuwit has become a political pawn, particularly of the Thaksin family and was working on behalf of Pheu Thai, the whistleblower activist dismissed them.
‘From now on, I will be campaigning against free cannabis while supporting medical cannabis. I have no hidden agenda in doing this because I’m not a politician any more.’
Recent US research shows growing evidence that regular use of cannabis or pot by adults of all ages causes negative mental and physical health outcomes
Since June 2022, when cannabis was decriminalised in Thailand groundbreaking research in the United States has established firm links between the regular use of the substance and a deterioration in mental health not just in young adults but across the age spectrum for regular users of the substance.
Similar claims were made by Thai medical experts to a parliamentary panel last year.
Now, a new study with a case sample of 175,000 adults in the United States where pot is currently legal in 39 states, shows that day-to-day users of cannabis are 34% more likely to experience heart disease than those who never use the substance.
The lead researcher on the study was Dr Ishan Paranjpe who just this week gave a media briefing on his findings.
The medical expert and other lead scientists underlined that further testing needed to be undertaken to fully understand and explore the findings thrown up by the research unveiled.
Theory that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, impacts the central nervous system causing changes to the heart
One well-established theory being proposed however is that the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in cannabis acts on the central nervous system when it produces the drug’s desired effects and that this causes changes to the heart and body’s blood vessels.
‘I think this has both public policy implications as well as implications for the medical community at large,’ Dr Paranjpe said. ‘There might also be potential pharmacologic interventions based on this cannabinoid pathway that I think would be amenable to future research.’
He said further studies were needed to look at the impact of regular cannabis use on the heart system and whether it leads to a higher incidence of heart attacks or heart disease.
However, he was confident that it was unlikely to be beneficial.
‘There is some observational data in the past that shows pretty robustly that it leads to an increased risk of heart attacks, but that’s mostly in younger people. What I would say is that physicians can counsel patients with heart disease that it probably doesn’t have a positive effect and might have a negative effect,’ he said. ‘I think the exact effect on the risk of stroke and heart attack is still unknown.’
Top cardiologists links the emerging science on cannabis to tobacco and cigarettes in the past on the physical side while pot also impacts mental health
Dr Jeffrey Kuvin, a Vice President of Cardiology at North Shore University Hospital in New York State, told reporters that he was concerned about persistent claims from users that marijuana was harmless and the current legislative trends.
He told them bluntly that if he had a heart complaint or heart disease, he would certainly stay away from the substance.
He linked THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) with inflammation in the body and a build-up of plaque in the blood system saying that the effect of chronic usage of the drug and the sharp uptick in its use may only filter through to the health system in the decades to come, just like cigarettes.
‘There’s a lot of potential risk for heart conditions as well as lung issues, and other bodily harm if it’s used on a chronic basis. And I worry that with changes in legislation in terms of its legality, we will only continue the course,’ Dr Kuvin explained. ‘If we’re not proactive in our approach we’re going to end up in a similar situation that we have found ourselves in with tobacco, trying to figure out how to increase our awareness and our education about the harm that cannabis can do, just like we do with cigarettes.’