Hard science backs a ban on liberal marijuana recreational use. Thailand’s runaway pot shop industry is on the ropes. The kingdom’s PM last week ordered a cannabis crackdown amidst rising health concerns and public demand for the shops to be shuttered.

The pro-cannabis lobby this week has called loudly for scientific evidence showing that pot or marijuana impairs mental health. They are making a mistake. Not only is there anecdotal evidence from Thailand’s hospitals and emergency wards throughout the kingdom but there are presently decades of scientific studies showing just that. From the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in the United States to peer-reviewed studies in The Lancet Psychiatry, the evidence is there. Cannabis, while not the only factor, is linked with the onset of psychosis, mental disorders, and even more dangerous conditions. Suicidal thoughts are another upshot among regular users.

Somsak Thepsutin, the new Minister of Public Health, is currently taking up the reins after last Wednesday’s decision by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. He has promised to hear the points of view of all stakeholders.

In addition, a March 2023 study by North Shore University in New York shows that THC, the key ingredient in the drug, causes inflammation. Therefore, it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Notwithstanding this, Pheu Thai MPs, this weekend told their grassroots base that the drug will again be outlawed. The response was wildly enthusiastic.

In addition, farmers throughout Thailand who once grew cannabis, also now support its reclassification as a scheduled narcotic. They have seen the profits from the drug crop drop to minuscule levels since the 2022 liberalisation.

It very much looks like the aggressive counter-campaign being waged by pro-marijuana groups may be about to backfire.

The controversy comes in the aftermath of last week’s drug summit at Government House.

At length, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin ordered last Wednesday that cannabis be relisted as a scheduled Narcotic by year’s end.

In brief, the clearcut decision has sparked palpable anger from the nascent sector.

Industry had been expecting a political fig leaf with a cannabis legislative bill ostensibly aimed at regulating pot. Palpable anger at the PM’s decision

The industry has been expecting an ambiguous legislative bill with loopholes to allow marijuana shops to remain open. The law would ostensibly have set out to regulate marijuana.

In effect, a political fig leaf for political promises made during the 2023 General Election.

The assorted groups who make up the pro-cannabis lobby have raised their voice in the media. Indeed, they are ready to take to the streets. 

A key refrain which has emerged from them is that any decision by the government must be based on science.

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Indeed, a number of groups are threatening to protest at the Ministry of Public Health on Thursday. In short, they are demanding proof that cannabis is injurious to the mental health of users. 

Pro-marijuana groups attack the government’s benign policy towards alcohol aimed at boosting the foreign tourism industry. Pheu Thai MPs are cock a hoop

The pro-cannabis lobby is particularly annoyed at recent government moves to liberalise access to alcohol.

This includes a controversial decision by the Srettha government to extend bar and nightlife opening hours until 4 am. In turn, this allowed alcohol to be served for an extended period. Good news for western holiday makers. 

4 am nightlife closing hours on track for Christmas or New Year’s season despite intense blowback

Certainly, these moves by the government have been limited to designated tourist hotspot areas. Their goal is to boost tourism numbers and income generated.

The ire of the pro-cannabis lobby is growing as it becomes clear that the government is serious about the move.

Furthermore, ministers in the government and MPs in rural Thailand are already making hay on the issue.

The Pheu Thai rank and file is cock a hoop about the PM’s decision to put cannabis back in its box.

In Nakhon Pathom, over the weekend, Pheu Thai Deputy Minister of Transport, Monporn Charoensri, told a supportive audience that cannabis would again be outlawed.

The Pheu Thai MP was speaking to enthusiastic constituents who welcomed the government’s decision to clamp down hard on narcotics.

Strong evidence to suggest high potency (THC) cannabis being sold through marijuana shops is being imported. Thai growers cannot compete on this front

It is coming with more evidence to suggest that marijuana being sold on Thailand’s streets is foreign-controlled.

Indeed, the cannabis revolution, applauded by hippie tourist magazines and international media, has seen prices for the Thai-grown crop plummet.

In short, Thai farmers find their crop is close to worthless since the liberalisation move. The crop they are growing has a limited THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) value.

In short, it lacks the buzz recreational users are willing to pay for. The result has been catastrophic for Thai growers.

Little wonder over the week that Ms Monporn was able to assure her rural constituency.

She promised that dangerous narcotics including marijuana sold for recreational use would be stamped out. In addition, a war would be declared on the deadly methamphetamine epidemic.

At the same time, the Nakhon Pathom MP predicted there would be higher crop prices moving forward.

Marijuana has since 2022 been a top political issue. Pheu Thai voters and grassroots want the drug made illegal again. Failure will have a political price

Across Thailand in recent days, this message has been relayed by MPs to the Pheu Thai government’s support base.

The closure of the pot shops is being seen as a sign that the Pheu Thai-led government is delivering for the people.

Meanwhile, the pro-cannabis PR lobby and activists are fighting back. 

They insist on scientific evidence before any decision is made. They demand to be shown how cannabis is a public health hazard.

Certainly, on Monday, they gave the government a deadline of 15 days. In addition, they promised that if there is substantial evidence, they will accept the PM’s decision.

This comes despite strong opposition to the recreational use of cannabis from the medical establishment in Thailand.

Medical Council and colleges want cannabis scheduled as a narcotic in Thailand based on both medical grounds and the country’s international reputation

In September 2022, months after the pot revolution was unleashed, the Medical Council of Thailand and 15 associated colleges of medicine urgently called for it to be again rescheduled as a narcotic.

The bodies made the call based on international medical science and laws calling for its prohibition.

The Thai doctors warned then that unregulated recreational use would be justified, including abuse of the substance, by claiming it was for medical benefit.

This is what has happened with sky-high THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) levels seen in buds and cannabis products being sold. 

Meanwhile, the government and Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin have promised that strictly controlled medical use of cannabis will be protected.

Cultural as well as political forces at play

Undoubtedly, cannabis or marijuana has positive health impacts. 

However, the drug must be used in a controlled way under prescription. At the same time, studies are still examining the long-term impact of the drug, even for medical purposes.

In truth, the backlash against the control of the drug has become a cultural issue in societies across the world. In short, another battleground between those on the right and left of the political divide. Hard to understand and perhaps not justified, but essentially true.

The pot joint is emblematic of the 1960s hippie revolution.

Films such as the 1998 film The Big Lebowski and the adventures of Cheech and Chong are part of the appeal.

Locally in Thailand, this culture has also taken root and it is anti-American.

Pro-cannabis activists insist there is no scientific data showing pot is linked to mental health issues or other harm. This is not altogether true

Nevertheless, the Thai pro-cannabis lobby groups want to see hard scientific evidence.

In effect, they are defending the recreational free-for-all that presently exists marketing high-potency pot for profit.

At length, the pro-cannabis lobby insists there is no sufficient data or research which suggests cannabis or pot is harmful. This claim is not altogether true.

Over the last decade, study after study in Europe and the United States has been showing a strong link between regular cannabis use and psychosis.

In addition, the pro-cannabis lobby in Thailand dismisses reports from emergency room doctors in the kingdom and from crime scenes.

These are documented by police reports and medical studies carried out by practitioners.

In addition, international peer-reviewed studies showing medical evidence proving high causality exists and cannot be disputed.

A spokesman for the Cannabis Future Network on Monday nonetheless was adamant. His view reflects repeated claims like this since Wednesday last week when the news emerged.

‘Just search on the internet and you will find that, unlike alcohol and tobacco, there has been no research which shows cannabis has a serious negative impact on mental health,’ he said. ‘On the other hand, there are countless studies which demonstrate the health benefits of cannabis, which are sufficient to conclude that cannabis plants have medicinal properties.’

Study published in 2020 in The Lancet Psychiatry in addition to the position of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) point to the dangers of pot

The response to that claim is that there are published medical studies such as one in 2020 in The Lancet Psychiatry to show that both regular use of cannabis and, in particular, high potency doses, such as the weed sold in Thailand’s cannabis shops, is a causal factor in the development of psychosis.

Doctors in emergency wards as well as clinical psychiatrists in Thailand and the world over do not dispute this. They have to deal with the ravages of the drug on a daily basis.

Marijuana use is linked to a tragic murder-suicide case in Nakhon Si Thammarat on Monday morning.
Emergency Room admissions for cannabis are up 566% as parties call for it to again be criminalised

Patients such as the 50-year-old who murdered his family in Nakhon Si Thammarat before taking his own life in April. Mr Narongsak was a durian farmer. His doctor had him on medication for psychosis caused by heavy use of marijuana.

Certainly, doctors accept that there are other factors such as genes, stress, or the history of the patient.

In addition, there is the pattern of use of marijuana and its potency. These are factors also. Furthermore, the drug is particularly damaging to young adolescents according to research.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) shows ‘considerable’ evidence linking cannabis and psychosis, mental health issues, disorders and suicidal thoughts

In conclusion, regarding the demand for proof that marijuana is harmful to medical health, we look to the United States.

Firstly, some states in that country have legalised recreational pot use. Despite this, there is still a federal ban.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) based in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The latter was established in 1887. It is a multi-billion US federal government agency with 22 associated institutes.

The body says there is ‘considerable’ evidence suggesting both a short-term and long-term negative impact on mental health from cannabis use.

It says marijuana has been linked to psychotic disorders and schizophrenia and even more harmful conditions.

In short, the drug is linked to a wide array of mental illnesses and self-harm including suicidal thoughts.

The institute also notes that there were other factors but underlines that the regular use of the drug and its potency make it certainly more harmful.

Top cardiologists at North Shore University Hospital in New York show a definite link between marijuana, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and cardiovascular disease

The range of studies is growing with some highlighting physical effects also.

In March 2023, top cardiologists at North Shore University Hospital in New York State produced a damning report. It showed increased links between cardiovascular disease and regular cannabis use.

Dr Jeffrey Kuvin, a Vice President of Cardiology at the university, warned against the use of the substance. He linked inflammation in the body to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the key ingredient in the drug. 

‘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.’

Minister of Public Health Somsak Thepsutin is now in the hot seat. He has promised to listen to all parties in the matter as he follows the PM’s order

At this time, Minister of Public Health Somsak Thepsutin is engaging in consultations with all parties.

Meanwhile, the former liberator of the drug and now Minister of the Interior, Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has said he will accept whatever cabinet decision is ultimately made. 

Mr Anutin has also called for scientific facts. Certainly, these are available. In brief, they support the relisting of marijuana as a dangerous narcotic which should be illegal for widespread use.

Fresh data was released this week into the debate. It shows an alarming rise in the use of cannabis, in particular among young Thai people. This is quite disturbing. 

Significantly, the reports this week suggest marijuana recreational use has grown by a factor of ten since 2022.

It chimes with reports from doctors in Thailand who suggest Emergency Ward admissions for overconsumption of the drug have skyrocketed.

Farmers now support the government’s decision to again outlaw marijuana after  witnessing the floor drop out from under cannabis crop prices since 2022

However, the final death knell for the liberalisation of the drug may be the plight of rural Thai farmers.

On Saturday, a key leader supported the government’s new stance in bringing the shutters down on weed shops.

Even the Minister of the Interior and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin hinted at this last week when he called for foreign owners of such shops to be arrested.

Anutin accepts the PM’s line on Pot. He now calls for foreigners operating weed shops to be arrested by police

One source within the industry estimates that 90% of the high-potency marijuana sold in the shops is imported from the United States.

Montri Yiamsung-noen is the President of a community network in Nakhon Ratchasima. He told reporters that 90% of the farms operated by 435 members were now sitting idle.

Tons of unsold marijuana stocked in warehouses

The land was licensed by the government to supply cannabis before June 2022. This was part of the tightly controlled medicinal marijuana policy.

Afterwards, the price dropped, undercutting the Thai producers. In short, the street market for high-potency marijuana led to an influx of imported products. Prices dropped from ฿10,500 per kg before the reclassification to just ฿5 to ฿8 per kg.

Afterwards, tons of unsold Thai-produced marijuana were left sitting in warehouses. In short, a catastrophe for local farmers.

Meanwhile, recreational marijuana use is just as much a political issue as it is a public health threat

In the meantime, a number of committees under the auspices of the Ministry of Public Health and the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) must review the situation. 

Deputy Prime Minister Anutin is calling for scientific evidence to be laid before them.

However, at the end of the day, despite the denials of tensions within the coalition, this is a political issue.

The Pheu Thai grassroots has been promised that cannabis will again be outlawed. The date given was the end of 2024. Failure by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin to deliver will be a serious blow to his authority.

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Further reading:

Anutin accepts the PM’s line on Pot. He now calls for foreigners operating weed shops to be arrested by police

Cannabis shops to be closed by April 1st 2025 under firm order given by PM to again schedule the drug

Cannabis law emerges as a big political threat to the coalition judging by what happened in 2022 revolt

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

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

Potent pot to be criminalised as the minister looks at ways to suppress recreational cannabis use

Two deaths linked with cannabis use and violent incidents reported in recent days by Thai police

Go easy on the growing cannabis industry says Anutin who concedes that Pita will be the next PM

Thai Marijuana tycoons ponder mixed messaging from the Move Forward-led coalition on the drug

Crackdown on crime wave against Chinese tourists in Bangkok as concerns also raised on cannabis

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