Deputy PM Anutin clashes with PM over Cannabis recriminalization. As public support surges, Anutin vows to vote against rescheduling cannabis as a controlled drug at the critical Narcotics Control Board meeting. Will the embattled PM Srettha hold firm?

Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul turned up the heat on the Prime Minister over the cannabis issue on Tuesday. After Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, the Minister of the Interior stridently voiced his opposition to the process currently underway to recriminalise both cannabis and hemp. Certainly, he promised to vote against it at a crucial meeting due shortly of the Narcotics Control Board (NCB). That meeting will be chaired by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. It comes with a rising number of controversies and pressure points facing the embattled Prime Minister. Nonetheless, public support for the government’s proposed recriminalisation of the drug is strong, with a NIDA survey in May showing 75% behind it.

Presently, the recreational use of cannabis in Thailand is widespread, with reportedly 7,700 outlets. This came after the decriminalisation of the drug by Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul (right) in June 2022. Now with a new government on track to reverse the regulation, the present Minister of the Interior, Mr Anutin, has waited until now to make clear his firm opposition. Previously, he had suggested further consultations while emphasising government unity. (Source: Japan Times and Narcotics Suppression Bureau.)

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Anutin Charnvirakul on Tuesday sounded a more strident note in relation to the government’s move to recriminalise cannabis or marijuana as a prohibited narcotic.

On Friday, the Narcotics Suppression Board (NSB), in a major move, approved such a course. In short, this would see the drug again placed on the scheduled list of narcotics.

Both cannabis and hemp are to be rescheduled as Category 5 prohibited drugs.

Government set to reverse controversial Cannabis deregulation from 2022. Plans for immediate enforcement of strict laws against cannabis and hemp

In turn, this will mean immediate police enforcement when it comes into effect.

Significantly, this is a reversal of Mr Anutin’s controversial deregulation which came into effect in June 2022.

The decision by the Narcotics Suppression Board (NSB) last Friday came at the end of a Ministry of Public Health consultative process.

The details were announced by the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Dr Surachoke Tangwiwat.

Previously, the Ministry of Public Health had heard from a broad section of the medical profession in Thailand on the subject. In addition, it heard of valid clinical research showing that cannabis leads to an increased risk of psychosis.

At the same time, a meeting at the ministry in Nonthaburi on June 1st heard Associate Professor Prakan Thomyangkun of the Psychiatric Association of Thailand give damning evidence. This was related to increased admissions and psychiatric case requirements linked with the decriminalisation of the drug.

Clinical evidence revealed the dangers of cannabis. Including increased psychosis risk, swaying public health consultations toward re-criminalisation

Before this, 63 leading medical clinicians in Thailand lodged a damning report with the Ministry. It referred to a multitude of scientific research showing the drug is harmful to human health.

Critically, this included the danger of damage to mental health among regular users as well as a propensity to cause heart conditions.

In particular, the President of the Medical Association of Thailand, Smith Srison has helped galvanise opposition to the drug. In 2022, after it was delisted, hundreds of clinicians wrote to the Ministry of Public Health pointing out the harmful effects of the drug.

Despite some publicity revealing similar reservations by senior Ministry of Public Health officials, it was ignored.

At the same time, public opinion is resolutely behind the move to recriminalise the drug. A May 2024 poll by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) showed 75.65% backed Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

In brief, 60.38% strongly agreed while 15.27% ‘rather agreed’ on the government’s plan.

Public strongly backs the government’s plan to relist cannabis as a Narcotic. May 2024 poll showing 75.65% support for Prime Minister’s policy change

The Prime Minister, Srettha Thavisin, at a May meeting attended by Mr Anutin and present Minister of Public Health Somsak Thepsutin, ordered cannabis relisted as a prohibited substance.

The PM had previously indicated that Thailand does not want the sprawling retail sector purveying cannabis for recreational purposes.

Presently, there are an estimatedof 7,700 shops. Researchers have indicated that the industry could be worth up to ฿50 billion at this time. Certainly, in 2022/2023, it was worth ฿28 billion.

The PM’s about-turn came to light in a controversial France 24 interview for foreign TV audiences.

In May, Mr Anutin suggested that both himself and the Bhumjaithai Party would be guided by collective cabinet responsibility on the matter.

He emphasised that as he was not Minister of Public Health any longer, the decision was up to Mr Somsak.

However, on Tuesday, his tone was different.

Anutin signals shift in stance, opposes cannabis relisting. Hinting at political manoeuvring within cabinet ahead of upcoming crucial NCB meeting

Firstly, he made it clear that he would oppose the recriminalisation of cannabis at the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) meeting due shortly.

A report from the Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB) to the Narcotics Control Board (NCB) is due this week. It will outline last Friday’s decision.

Narcotics Control Board voted on Friday to reschedule Cannabis as an illicit drug by January 1st 2025
Cannabis shops to be closed by April 1st 2025 under a firm order given by PM to again schedule the drug

The 36-member Narcotics Control Board (NCB) is chaired by the Prime Minister. Mr Anutin is a member together with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior.

On Tuesday, he underlined that the senior official at his ministry would be free to vote on his own accord.

At the same time, he raised the possibility of the Ministry of Public Health coming back under his control as party leader.

‘If there is a cabinet reshuffle and the Bhumjaithai Party has a chance to supervise the Public Health Ministry, I would take cannabis off the narcotics list again because it is the flagship policy of the party,’ Mr Anutin said.

He was speaking to reporters at Government House.

Deputy PM warns against cannabis recriminalisation. Cites investor confidence damage. Business will live in fear of policy reversals as political dynamics change

In addition, Mr Anutin said this reversal of policy will damage Thailand’s credibility.

The Interior Minister said investors scanning the country will see that policies shifted significantly from government to government. In effect, a signal that a climate of policy instability prevails.

In the meantime, Dr Surachoke at the Ministry of Public Health was clear about the government’s timetable.

‘All related laws should be amended before January 1st. That is the timeframe that we are expecting for this law to take effect,’ he told reporters. He confirmed that the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) will have the file this week.

Pro-cannabis protesters call for a new Committee to review the drug’s impact. Rising tensions as government moves towards stricter regulation of pot

Meanwhile, pro-cannabis protesters have been on the streets since Monday. On Tuesday, they called for a new ‘fact-finding committee’ to review the impact of the drug.

This comes despite the Ministry of Public Health’s consultative process. Previously, the pro-cannabis lobby walked out on Minister Somsak Thepsutin.

However, on Tuesday, as the government’s determination to again outlaw the drug became clear, they called for further deliberations.

‘A committee should study the issue. The facts should be established and laid out for the public to see,’ declared Mr Prasitchai Nunual. Mr Prasitchai is the Secretary-General of the outspoken Writing Thai Cannabis’ Future group.

Despite support for the continued recreational use of the drug running at less than one in four, the pro-cannabis lobby remains determined.

The current plan being pushed by the Ministry of Public Health will not impact the responsible use and cultivation of the drug for health purposes.

Farmers express concern over the new government policy’s impact on their future. Revealing a divided stance within agricultural communities in Thailand

On Tuesday, one group in the pro-cannabis protests from Nakhon Ratchasima said they were concerned that the new policy may impact Thai farmers.

Nonetheless, other farming groups in the same province previously supported the government’s policy.

In short, they claim that marijuana prices plummeted after June 2022. At length, that was caused by the widespread importation of the substance.

For instance, it is understood that the vast majority of cannabis flower buds for sale in Thailand recently are of US origin.

Nonetheless, the pro-cannabis lobby has made it clear it will fight hard to stop the government from recriminalising the drug.

On Tuesday, they threatened to reveal financial links between influential groups in Thailand and Pheu Thai Party elements. Without substance or detail, they allege such groups are behind the latest policy.

The protesters claim that the plan to recriminalise the drug and wipe out the small marijuana shops is to protect big business interests.

Certainly, so far, no evidence or plausible explanation for such claims has been put forward.

Weak economy and new faultlines add pressure on the PM. Similarly, the Digital Wallet giveaway plan will test cabinet unity amidst cannabis relisting sulk

However, Deputy Prime Minister Anutin’s statement to reporters after Tuesday’s cabinet meeting may be something that should concern the Prime Minister.

Presently, the embattled PM is facing a Constitutional Court challenge to his tenure on the job. At the same time, there is growing concern about the kingdom’s economic malaise and wider economic policies.

A contentious plan to distribute ฿500 billion in the Digital Wallet giveaway is predicted to test cabinet unity in the coming months.

The plan is opposed by the Bank of Thailand while state agencies have warned that it is open to fraud and could lead to legal difficulties for ministers.

At the same time, there is a growing list of controversies and fault lines.

Significantly, the reversal of the status of cannabis is singularly important for the Bhumjaithai Party leader Mr Anutin. In short, it has, so far, been the signature achievement of his party in government.

Join the Thai News forum, follow Thai Examiner on Facebook here
Receive all our stories as they come out on Telegram here
Follow Thai Examiner here

Further reading:

Narcotics Control Board voted on Friday to reschedule Cannabis as an illicit drug by January 1st 2025

Cannabis slammed by top medical leaders and academics at Ministry of Public Health civil forum

Condemnation of previous pot policy from medical experts as Thailand’s pot shops are set to close

The hard science is in. Regular potent Cannabis use is a danger to mental health. Bad news for the pot shops

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