Move Forward deputy leader has given an assurance to operators licenced by authorities in respect of marijuana or cannabis that their businesses will not be closed down by the new government’s promise to control the widespread use of the drug in public and again outlaw its recreational use. One suggestion is that the use of marijuana or cannabis be treated as a medical prescription requiring clinical authorisation and only to take place within designated areas closed off to the public.
There are early indications that the Move Forward-led government, if it takes office as expected in August, even in the face of mounting hurdles, will move to relist cannabis or marijuana as a scheduled narcotic while also clamping down on the importation of high-quality cannabis or marijuana into Thailand. The imported pot currently dominates the recreational use market that has developed since the legalisation of the drug with over 2,000 retail outlets across the kingdom. At the same time, the Deputy Leader of the progressive party which dramatically won the May 14th General Election, Ms Sirikanya Tansakul, has given assurances to all established business concerns in the trade that a regulatory framework will be put in place to allow them to carry on their business in accordance with the licences granted to them. There remains anxiety among the young marijuana tycoons who sprang up since June 2022 as to whether it will be a constricted regime where only those with medical prescriptions can buy the drug, something advocated by many among the public or something more akin to the effective free for all in place today, perhaps with more police oversight. It is acknowledged that in the eight-party coalition, there is some sympathy for the new trade from the party at its head, which, in 2019, was in the vanguard of campaigning for reform of the laws governing its use.
A Move Forward-led government intends to clamp down on the current free for all in the sale and use of cannabis and marijuana across Thailand and particularly in tourist hotspots.
A firm commitment was given last week in the Memorandum of Understanding signed by eight parties to the proposed new coalition government to again outlaw the recreational use of the drug and its possession for such a purpose.
On Tuesday, the new coalition in a move described as ‘inappropriate’ by incumbent Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, formed a transitional committee to tentatively discuss key matters with third parties across seven different panels before it takes power including one dealing with the problem of drugs which is expected to deal with the cannabis issue which loomed large in the May 14th General Election campaign.
Looks certain marijuana will be relisted as an illegal narcotic by the Ministry of Public Health bringing it back under police control as a first step
Last weekend, in response to outrage from the public at the current free for all on Thailand’s streets particularly among women in Thailand, accompanied by repeated expressions of concern by doctors and the medical community, a Move Forward Party activist and former party-list MP Police Major General Supisal Pakdinaruenart told the Bangkok Post newspaper that he thought the drug would again be included on the schedule of prohibited narcotics, effectively, the recriminalisation of the drug, a reversal of the fateful ministerial order signed by Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, the Bhumjaithai Party leader early last year as Minister of Public Health which came into force on June 4th leading to a revolution of the marijuana business in Thailand when police effectively lost direct power to control the drug in public areas.
The senior Move Forward Party member was adamant that marijuana or cannabis had become a political issue in this election, a rejection of protestations by the Bhumjaithai Party, saying it was a key issue in the election campaign and his party was committed to the new programme for government to address heightened public concern about the situation.
It was a key election issue and the people did express concern about the current vacuum in the law over marijuana and its sale at every street corner
‘Of course, we campaigned on it. It’s a political issue that we must push ahead and get it done. That’s the reason it’s there in the MoU,’ Police Major General Supisal declared.
This week, Move Forward Party Deputy Leader Ms Sirikanya Tansakul who has taken on a key communications role for the party during the ongoing process of forming the new government, also confirmed that the drug will be relisted through a revised order from the Ministry of Public Health but, at the same time, appeared anxious to assure entrepreneurs and those who have invested in the industry that a regulated environment would be created, as originally intended and agreed by the cabinet early last year, for the controlled growth and cultivation of marijuana for health purposes.
The problem for many business owners, of course, in Bangkok and other key marijuana centres is that 90% of the business being done through over 2,000 retail outlets throughout the country concerns the recreational use of marijuana which no political party wants to support upfront including the Bhumjaithai Party itself which ushered in the free for all.
New government appears to be promising to provide business investors in the new marijuana industry space to operate while also controlling the drug
Ms Sirikanya talked of new laws but at the same time promised that those who have invested in the industry through responding to the previous government’s programme, as rolled out, would not be victimised.
There are currently over 12,000 people and entities registered in Thailand concerning the growth and sale of cannabis or marijuana for a three-year period.
One suggestion has been that the government should pay compensation to licence holders if it decides to radically restrict the availability of marijuana giving it the status of a controlled drug for medical use.
‘We confirm that those who comply with the law will not be affected. Please rest assured,’ the Move Forward Party spokeswoman, who is also tipped by some as the next finance minister, said this week.
Move Forward deputy leader says the current legal vacuum will be brought to an end and that existing business concerns will not be shuttered overnight
Ms Sirikanya instead promises that the current legal vacuum will come to an end quickly but appears to imply that the industry which has grown up around the drug which according to the Thai Chamber of Commerce, in the last few days, could be worth as much as $1.2 billion over the coming five years, would not be shuttered overnight in a crackdown.
While there would appear to be little prospect of any sort of sweeping crackdown, she said unlicensed street vendors and smuggled imports of the drug would be stopped.
Ms Sirikanya, at one point, appeared to refer to unlicensed sellers of the drug on the streets and significantly, the enormous rise that has been seen in the importation of high THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) quality cannabis into Thailand from the United States and elsewhere in breach of customs regulations.
As well as relisting the drug as a scheduled narcotic and somehow defining the operational limits of existing licence holders, a key part of the new government’s plan appears to be a crackdown on this imported foreign marijuana into Thailand which in Bangkok is reported to represent up to 90% of the market due to its superior quality.
Public concerned about the existing situation and the perceived threat posed by the drug to minors and younger adults without medical supervision
There is an ongoing debate on the correct approach to marijuana use and sale in Thailand with some members of the public calling for it to be strictly regulated through a doctor’s prescription, not unlike prescription drugs.
This week, a 52-year-old Thai woman, Ms Sakulrat Thongtongkham, a mother of two and an office clerk whose interest is to protect her young children from the dangers of the drug, called for such an approach.
She said it was very important that the drug be relisted as an illegal narcotic subject to police action without medical permission to use it.
‘When it was illegal, we didn’t see it being used like this. Now cannabis shops are all over the place, near schools, temples and communities. How can parents guard their kids when it can be accessed so easily?’ she asked. ‘I bet more than 90% is for recreational use. If it is for medical purposes, these shops must have doctors to prescribe it.’
Business operators say you cannot simply put the genie back in the bottle as the industry has grown since June 2022 in tourist hotspots and Bangkok
However, the problem appears to be as some business operators and those familiar with the ways of the market put it: ‘how do you put the genie back in the bottle?’
On tourist hotspots such as the Khao San Road in Bangkok, the President of the Business Association, Mr Sanga Ruangwattanakul, sees the drug as creating a new market for tourism to Thailand.
Unlike many flawed concepts for boosting tourism and generating added value, this is a proposition that is already working with some 40 businesses in the area established with approximately ฿1 million invested each since last year’s cannabis revolution was declared.
He says that they are generating ฿30 million a month compared to the area’s overall income of ฿600 million.
The impact is significant, the stakes have risen.
Tycoon to Move Forward politicians: don’t put cannabis ‘back in prison’ like before, have empathy
One of these new entrepreneurs and cannabis tycoons is Netnapa Singsatit who runs the RG420 cannabis shop on Khao San Road.
He is understandably concerned for the future of the newly established trade in cannabis for tourists.
‘Tax cannabis, like cigarettes or alcohol, and enrich the nation. Don’t put cannabis back in prison,’ he implores the new government’s leadership. ‘They should have empathy for us business owners.’
Many in the pro-cannabis lobby lament the change of tune in the Move Forward Party from 2019 when the progressive party was at the forefront of advancing a more liberal culture to cannabis which has now turned into a divisive political issue with real concern among the Thai public particularly relating to its potentially harmful effects on young people and especially among women who are significantly less likely to be cannabis users in Thailand.
54% of all Thai women have never touched cannabis in any format while only 17% of adults are regular users, 7% for medical and 10% for recreational use
A 2022 YouGov poll showed that 54% of Thai women had not touched any cannabis product in the past two years including a growing range of manufactured products such as foods, beverages, toothpastes and cosmetics.
Surveys last year showed that 17% of the Thai public uses cannabis or marijuana regularly with only 7% taking the drug for medical purposes while 10% use it recreationally with the latter group dominated by men.
Polls show widespread use nationwide of marijuana for recreational use with 10% of the public using the drug for this reason and only 7% for medical use
Irish doctor, last July, welcomed findings of a Lancet published UK universities study showing clear links between mental health issues and marijuana
Research shows that 72% of the Thai public has expressed unease about the current regulations on cannabis in the kingdom amid new research from universities in the United States and Europe suggesting that the drug has many harmful side effects, both physically and mentally, for those who regularly use it and especially if taken with high levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).