Coalition rift appears over draft cannabis law. PM’s scathing remarks on cannabis and the industry surrounding it have sparked tension. Prime Minister’s position on cannabis stirs controversy ahead of a new regulatory bill due before cabinet. Political divisions deepen as conflicting views emerge within the cabinet. The public health minister emphasises medical use, but public fears linger over the current free-for-all recreational use of pot across Thailand.

Remarks made during a TV interview with a foreign television channel have highlighted potential conflicts within the cabinet. It comes in advance of the presentation of a bill to regulate cannabis due shortly. It is reported that Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul is concerned following strident remarks made by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. In brief, these relate to the liberalisation of the drug from 2022. On Tuesday, Dr Cholnan Srikaew, the Minister of Public Health and a former Pheu Thai Party leader suggested that Mr Srettha may have misspoke.

Minister of Public Health Dr Cholnan Srikaew addressed reporters on Tuesday. In short, the cabinet minister appeared to mildly rebuff Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin for his scathing views on marijuana. These were expressed in a frank and open interview on France 24 TV with Bangkok correspondent Matt Hill recently. In turn, this spotlights a faultline in policy between the Pheu Thai Party and the Bhumjaithai Party. Certainly, the latter has championed the legalisation of the once-prohibited narcotic since 2019.

The comments came during a television interview in English. At the same time, Dr Cholnan suggested the PM may have been reflecting his own personal views.

However, given the strong public feeling on the matter, political tensions can be expected over the legislation. Indeed, it may prove a banana skin for the government as it did previously for the former government in 2022.

Strong comments made by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin in an interview with France 24 TV have raised tensions in cabinet. Mr Srettha was responding to France 24’s Matt Hunt in an interview recorded in Chiang Mai and aired recently. 

PM’s tone was scathing on the widespread liberalisation of cannabis in Thailand. It resonates well with the overwhelming majority of people in the country

Significantly, the prime minister was scathing in his criticism of the widespread liberalisation of the drug.

What’s more, his thinking is in tune with many among the ordinary Thai public.

Indeed, the PM’s view accords with the majority view of people according to opinion polls. Mr Srettha insisted, in blunt terms, that the cannabis industry and economic impact on Thailand was a net negative.

Jail time to return for Cannabis players as Srettha describes the trade as a threat to the country and economic negative

During the passage of a bill drafted in September 2022, a poll was conducted by the Southeast Asia Study Centre of the Open Cyber University of Korea. 

The poll found that 87.27% of people oppose the unregulated sale of marijuana that occurred in June 2022. This majority essentially oppose the recreational use of marijuana or ganja in Thailand. 

Indeed, this was the basis of Pheu Thai’s populist manifesto in 2023 which helped the party garner 28.84% of the vote. The Bhumjaithai Party, in contrast, obtained only 2.99%.

In addition, he openly suggested that prison terms be reintroduced. The PM suggested these could be imposed for those connected with abuse of the drug after a transitory period.

On Tuesday, however, at Government House, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin made a short and curt statement.

A public relations cleanup was underway. It followed somewhat critical comments by the former leader of Mr Srettha’s own party. In short, the current Minister of Public Health, Dr Cholnan Srikaew. 

This is the man tasked with finding a law that satisfies two opposing visions for the future of cannabis.

One is linked to the highly critical position held by the Pheu Thai Party and the other pushed by the Bhumjaithai Party.

Before the 2023 General Election, Pheu Thai Party campaigned on recriminalising cannabis. At the same time, the Bhumjaithai Party was the party that pioneered its decriminalisation.

Two different approaches to cannabis from two political parties critical to the existence of the current coalition government. Something has got to give 

Its leader, Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, sparked the cannabis revolution in June 2022. In brief, this was when it was removed as a scheduled narcotic. The order was signed by Mr Anutin. It came into effect on June 8th 2022.

In short, on Tuesday, Dr Cholnan attempted to clarify the government’s still obscure stance on marijuana.

He emphasised its use was strictly for medical purposes. However, this is still supposed to be the legal position today.

Indeed, this fact is often cited by the Bhumjaithai Party for political purposes. However, everyone knows the reality on the ground is the exact opposite. 

The declaration comes amidst widespread public concern regarding potential misuse and the need for strict regulation.

Unrestricted recreational use of marijuana in 2024 is rife. It is certainly the order of the day in Bangkok and throughout the provinces.

Last week, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s comments during his France 24 interview, basically reflected that reality.

In short, the palpable anger of many people in Thailand at the state of affairs. The PM was making his disdain for the ‘industry’ known.

Certainly, it raised eyebrows politically.

Dr Cholnan as Minister of Public Health, is finalising the legislation to be put before the cabinet for discussion. A key political issue and fault line

In turn, it prompted the clarification from the Minister of Public Health. Dr Cholnan is presently finalising a law to regulate marijuana. A tricky political gambit.

Prime Minister Srettha, on Tuesday, stressed the intention to confine marijuana’s usage strictly to a medical context.

He clarified that any regulatory measures would be aimed at controlling its usage solely for health purposes.

Srettha’s remarks highlight the government’s commitment to ensuring responsible and restricted access to marijuana. In effect, it is now envisaged it will be used primarily for medicinal applications.

Opponents of marijuana, which is now in widespread use as a recreational drug, smell a rat.

Indeed, they fear that some sort of compromise may be arrived at. In effect, it would allow dispensaries and cannabis shops to remain. 

This would be achieved by operating under a broad public health flag. For instance, cannabis may be prescribed for stress as a medical need.

Government is not planning to reschedule the drug. In essence, this makes police action and enforcement extremely difficult. It is the nub of the issue

What has been made clear by a statement from Dr Chokan on Tuesday is that cannabis will not be relisted as a scheduled or prohibited narcotic.

Certainly, that will make policing the abuse of the drug for recreational purposes far more difficult.

Since cannabis was removed from the scheduled list of narcotics in June 2022, criminal police action regarding the drug has all but ceased.

It happened overnight. Indeed, this saw prisoners held on prior convictions relating to its use, released from prison Similarly, all pending prosecutions were dropped. 

The government’s stance on marijuana regulation was put forward on Tuesday by Public Health Minister Cholnan. At length, he noted that under the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, the government was obliged to regulate the substance.

In short, Dr Cholnan, emphatically pointed out that cannabis or marijuana would not be prohibited but it would be regulated.

Significantly, in his France 24 interview Prime Minister Srettha described cannabis as a threat to the country. In addition, he dismissed it as an economic negative.

Public Health Minister appeared to mildly rebuff the PM

Dr Cholnan, however, on Tuesday, appeared to mildly rebuff the prime minister.

In brief, he suggested that the PM’s comments did not accord with the government policy statement to parliament.

In particular, the commitment to making the drug available for medical use and economic benefit.

Dr Cholnan suggested that Prime Minister Srettha may have been speaking on a personal basis.

‘The bill will provide a legal basis for the policy that has been delivered to Parliament,’ he said. ‘Since marijuana is not a drug, there should be a law regulating it in line with the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 that says countries that do not criminalise marijuana should enact a law to regulate it.’

Minister Cholnan reaffirmed the government’s plan to introduce legislation aimed at strictly regulating marijuana for medical and health-related purposes.

His comments sharply addressed recent statements made by Prime Minister Thavisin.

In effect, the PM appeared previously to countenance a reconsideration of marijuana’s legal status.

Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, raised concerns about the PM’s remarks on the subject of cannabis on French television

The public health minister’s remarks came in response to concerns raised by Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.

On Monday, Mr Anutin expressed surprise at Prime Minister Srettha’s earlier French TV statements on marijuana. 

Anutin led the decriminalisation of marijuana during his tenure as Public Health Minister. Undoubtedly, he is seen as a proponent of the drug.

For instance, in September 2022, amid a parliamentary revolt over the issue, he declared that public opinion on the drug must change.

Drugs to be an election issue as Anutin digs in insisting that attitudes must change on cannabis

Undoubtedly, cannabis remains a political hot potato in Thailand.

Strong grassroots opposition to the current liberalised regime for cannabis. It is seen as a real danger and threat to the young and society as a whole.

Grassroots public opinion in Thailand as elsewhere in Asia, opposes all drug use.

Certainly, Pheu Thai supporters are particularly opposed to the drug.

Since the government came to power in September 2023, Dr Cholnan has been forced several times to clarify his proposed legislation.

Marijuana industry faces disaster as Health Minister unveils law to outlaw recreational pot use in Thailand

Undeniably, it was reported in January 2024, that his new bill would wipe out the now flourishing recreational cannabis industry.

In turn, this led to consultations between his ministry and concerned groups. In addition, it is also understood that Deputy Prime Minister Anutin and the Bhumjaithai Party are closely monitoring the situation.

The upshot is likely to be a delicate balancing act which results in weak enforcement. A political fudge in other words.

Even under current legal provisions, nearly all cannabis shops are retailing products which are illegal if fully tested by officials under the current law

Certainly, even now, most of the cannabis buds and products for sale in Thailand’s retail outlets are already illegal.

Under the current law, any cannabis product with a THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) value over 0.2% is outlawed.

Some of the products on sale have a THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) value of up to 25%. However, no police enforcement is possible as there is no legal mechanism for them to act.

The withdrawal of cannabis as a scheduled narcotic has effectively neutered law enforcement.

Furthermore, it is quite a dangerous situation given the threat posed by the drug. In particular, when people act outside the law under its influence such as while driving.

In the meantime, Dr Cholnan, since reports of his bill to stamp out recreational use emerged, has become decidedly more ambiguous.

On Tuesday, he emphasised the need for understanding. He referred to past efforts to promote marijuana decriminalisation. These were rooted in its potential medical benefits and economic opportunities.

At the same time, he insisted his new law would punish those who abuse the drug as a recreational substance.

Unquestionably, this proposed legislation, expected in April, now emerges as a potential banana skin for the coalition. 

Goals of Pheu Thai and the Bhumjaithai Party conflict

Basically, the policies of both the Bhumjaithai Party and the Pheu Thai Party on the issue at grassroots level are opposed.

This comes despite claims by the leadership of the Bhumjaithai Party and Mr Anutin that they also oppose recreational cannabis use.

Anutin’s Bhumjaithai Party in 2019 campaigned on a platform advocating for marijuana decriminalisation. In short, this was to facilitate its medical use and promote economic growth.

Any deviation from this agenda is now seen as a potential test of relationships within the coalition government.

Minister Cholnan, on Tuesday, underlined the government’s commitment to its stated policy in parliament.

He clarified that existing legislation categorises marijuana extract with a THC content of 0.2% or higher as a narcotic substance.

The proposed bill governing marijuana use for medical and health purposes seeks to establish a legal regulatory framework. 

At length, he promised it would be consistent with international conventions while addressing domestic concerns.

Dr Cholnan promises heavy ‘penalties’ for recreational use of the drug. However, at the same time, he warns against sweeping changes to the current order

Under the proposed legislation, stringent penalties would be imposed on individuals found using marijuana for non-medical purposes. 

Minister Srikaew, at the same time, warned of the repercussions of reinstating marijuana as a scheduled narcotic. He clearly referenced the sprawling industry that has grown up around it since 2022.

Furthermore, he promised the proposed law would require individuals seeking to grow marijuana for personal use to obtain prior authorization. This regulatory measure aims to ensure responsible cultivation practices and prevent unauthorised usage.

In effect, Dr Cholnan said recriminalised cannabis would severely impact the private sector.

Additionally, he referred to households involved in medical marijuana cultivation. He referenced the fact that the drug had been decriminalised since June 2022.

However, it is now common knowledge that a significant majority of cannabis products sold in Thai outlets are imported. In particular, from the United States.

Minister’s stance is at odds with the comments made by the Prime Minister on the international French TV channel as he seeks to preserve the new industry

This stance certainly appears to be at odds with the Prime Minister’s thinking.

Speaking with France 24, the government leader made his opposition to the drug plain. 

Indeed, he singled it out as a threat to Thailand. Furthermore, he condemned the sector as a detracting factor in the country’s economy.

‘I don’t think there’s a massive business at the moment. I think the massive result from legalising it is going to be a negative massive repercussion to the people of Thailand,’ Mr Srettha told the France 24 correspondent in Bangkok.

The new law will be presented to the cabinet for consideration soon.

Undoubtedly, the legislation is bound to generate the same kind of political heat it did in 2022.

Certainly, marijuana and cannabis is now a cultural and political line of division in Thailand just as it is worldwide. 

Previously, the 2022 law was defeated by a parliamentary revolution driven by grassroots representations to MPs.

Especially, the fear of the impact of the drug on society and the danger it poses to children and young adults.

Given the unpopularity of this government, widespread corruption and a faltering economy, as in 2022, this issue could provide an outlet for public frustration.

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