Spat between deputy prime ministers Anutin Charnvirakul and Jurin Laksanawisit over the issue as tensions mount. The Democrat Party and the opposition are adamant that the programme ushered in by Minister Anutin must be reversed amid claims that the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in some commercial products is not being measured and may be far higher than the legal limit allowed while over 90% of the crop being grown by farmers ends up being sold for recreational use for the same reason. A top government agency has also revealed that the number of young people under 20 now using the drug has doubled since it was decriminalised in June.
Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and his Bhumjaithai Party, already at the bottom of opinion polls, are facing a continued backlash from his controversial cannabis legalisation policy with Emergency Room (ER) admissions in relation to marijuana up 566% this year so far. It comes as the Democrat Party in the coalition government is now aligning with the opposition calling for the recreational use of cannabis to be made illegal and the drug to be relisted as an illicit narcotic subject to criminal prosecution by the Royal Thai Police. Minster Anutin, this week, was involved in a spat with his cabinet colleague Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce Jurin Laksanawisit, the Democrat Party leader after he appeared to make personal remarks about Mr Jurin while addressing the possibility of having discussions with him on the matter.
There is a rising tide of political opposition in parliament to the cannabis legalisation programme spearheaded by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul.
It comes as temperatures have risen again after a public spat in recent days between Minister Anutin and his cabinet colleague and fellow deputy prime minister Jurin Laksanawisit, the leader of the Democrat Party.
It is understood that the marijuana bill which will face its second and third reading in the House of Representatives next week, will be voted down again by the Democrat Party, the opposition Pheu Thai Party and the ruling Palang Pracharat Party.
Parties other than Bhumjaithai want the recreational and liberal use of cannabis again outlawed and criminalised as medical concerns mount
All of these parties have let it be known that unless the law is radically altered from the version that a Bhumjaithai Party-led committee has developed in parliament, to change course and make the recreational use of cannabis or marijuana clearly illegal and subject to robust police action as a criminal offence, the bill will be rejected before the house.
Restive MPs, sensing momentum among their colleagues and the general public against the decriminalisation of marijuana, are now also calling for all non-medical use of cannabis use to again be criminalised.
The current movement against the Bhumjaithai Party-sponsored initiative is being driven by rising concern also among medical practitioners on the ground, with a marked deterioration in the situation concerning marijuana use and adverse side effects being seen since Minster Anutin’s order delisting marijuana as a class 5 narcotic came into force in early June.
This prompted the Royal Thai Police, on advice, to stand down on enforcement against the recreational use of marijuana and the release of prisoners facing charges linked with possession of and dealing in the drug from the country’s overcrowded prisons.
Emergency room admissions from marijuana consumption rose by 566%, a rapid change in 2022 with cannabis delisted as an illicit narcotic in June
This week, Dr Muhammad Fahmee Talib of Prince of Songkla University’s Faculty of Medicine, in an objective assessment of the situation made clear that while the current problem is still manageable for Thailand’s health service, the picture is changing rapidly with rising cause for concern.
He pointed out that last year 3% of all Emergency Room (ER) admissions to Thai hospitals were linked to cannabis or marijuana ingestion.
That figure, so far, for this year, has risen to 17% or nearly 6 times what it was.
Dr Muhammad’s concerns have been repeated by hundreds of medical professionals in Thailand this year including nearly all the senior personnel within Minister Anutin’s own Ministry of Public Health who oppose the move to deregulate the drug for recreational use apart from the previous legal situation which allowed for its limited and supervised use for medical purposes.
A groundbreaking study, outlining definitive evidence linking mental health issues with regular use of the drug across all age groups was published at the end of July in The Lancet Psychiatry.
Lancet study vigorously endorsed by mental health practitioners all over the world on the negative effects of marijuana on regular users of all ages
The findings were endorsed by doctors all over the world who deal with the day-to-day impact of cannabis use on patients of all ages but particularly the young who have gone on to develop mental illness due to the regular consumption of the drug.
This year, at the end of July, the former National Police Commissioner General Suwat Jangyodsuk demurred and ask for legal clarification when tasked by the Ministry of Public Health to police public health laws which officials working for Minister Anutin had claimed could be used to regulate the sale and consumption of the drug under public health legislation and order regulations but without serious criminal sanctions as existed before.
Lawmakers within the House of Representatives have referred to the Bhumjaithai Party’s efforts this week, despite its denials to the contrary, as being directed at railroading the country into a new liberal era of recreational marijuana use.
In any event, this is what has happened since early June with marijuana stalls, booths and retail outlets increasingly being seen in public spaces and widespread advertising for the substance on social media.
MPs describe the law being passed through parliament as ‘distorted’ in its nature as it fails to outlaw recreational use and in fact, provides for it
MPs and political operatives have described the ‘distorted nature’ of the bill being pushed through parliament which seems more designed to promote the recreational, commercial use and sale of cannabis rather than outlawing what all observers now agree is a free for all in Thailand.
The revolt against Minister Anutin’s programme and marijuana bill has been led by southern Democrat Party MPs who are facing public disquiet about the rise in violence and mayhem in provinces which are being linked to drugs including the consumption of pot.
Anutin, in September, when the revolt started, insisted that MPs must instead change their attitude towards marijuana even as public concern grows
The reaction from Minister Anutin and his party has been to double down with the minister in September chiding opposition and Democrat Party MPs saying their attitudes towards cannabis needed to change.
This weekend, Rames Rattanachaweng, the top legal officer for the Democrat Party, Thailand’s oldest and which alone among coalition parties in government, appears to be gaining ground in recent election battles and opinion polls, described the passage of the current marijuana bill in parliament as a ‘distortion’ of the legislative process.
In contrast, the Bhumjaithai Party, despite vocal supporters and press reports that it is a possible replacement in Thai politics for the Palang Pracharat Party, is stuck at the bottom of the most reliable and respected opinion polls at 2.3% support and noticeably losing ground in southern Thailand and more conservative parts of the kingdom because of this highly controversial policy with anti-drug sentiment in Thailand running high in the face of an epidemic of addiction, abuse and violence.
On Friday, in northeastern Nong Khai province, Minister Anutin called for everyone to ‘stop arguing’ and said that he is confident he was working for the good of the Thai people.
He said that even if the law was not passed, people can use marijuana for medical purposes.
However, the delisting of marijuana as a scheduled narcotic agreed upon by the cabinet in January this year was based on the corresponding law to control widespread recreational use.
Democrat Party legal executive says Mr Anutin’s personal remarks this week were ‘unbelievable’ for a minister at the highest level in Thai politics
Mr Rames, on Friday, rejected the accusation from the Bhumjaithai Party which has accused his party leader Mr Jurin Laksanawisit and the Democrat Party itself of playing politics with the issue to gain political advantage.
Minister Anutin made personal remarks regarding Mr Jurin while referring to the possibility of talks with him which Mr Rames described on Friday as unbelievable behaviour at the highest level of Thai politics.
He said that Mr Jurin, the Minister of Commerce since 2019, was not playing political games but standing up for the views and representations of MPs and the public who are increasingly alarmed at the current situation.
He also highlighted Mr Jurin’s long experience in Thai politics and his participation in previous Thai governments where he served both as Minister of Public Health and Minister of Education.
‘Mr Jurin has been a politician for a long time. He knows the rules and regulations of the country well. Especially, that the key principle is to hold the interests of the people and the country foremost,’ Mr Rames said.
Positions are hardening in opposition not only to the bill in parliament but the programme of pot decriminalisation pushed so far by Minister Anutin
Towards the end of the week, opposition not only to the bill before the House of Representatives but the whole direction of the Bhumjaithai Party’s policy on cannabis was drawing fire from political parties and MPs across the political divide.
Democrat Party MP for Trang, Sathit Wongnongtoey insisted on Thursday that his party was standing firm and would not support any law which failed to stamp out the widespread recreational use of cannabis or marijuana in public.
He said that this was never the intention when the cabinet, in early 2022, agreed to remove marijuana as a listed narcotic.
The current situation was that an ‘extremely’ liberal culture with regard to the consumption of marijuana or cannabis has now developed in Thailand.
He said police were powerless to arrest sellers openly promoting the substance on streets where anyone could purchase the drug legally with an identification card or personal ID.
He said the minister should consult with his own officials on the rapidly deteriorating situation with regard to drug addiction in Thailand.
Pheu Thai Party MP from Maha Sarakham says relisting cannabis as a schedule 5 illicit narcotic subject to strong police enforcement is the answer
Sutin Klangsaeng of the Pheu Thai Party, an MP from Maha Sarakham in northeastern Thailand and opposition chief whip, said his party would not support the marijuana bill in parliament unless it clearly controls the use and sale of the substance in order to decisively prohibit its recreational use.
‘If all parts of the draft clearly state that the use of cannabis is limited to only medical purposes, we will definitely support it. However, if any parts of the bill still open the door to the recreational use of cannabis, we will never vote for it,’ he declared
He called for marijuana to be reinstated as a schedule 5 narcotic and to be subject to rigorous law enforcement by the Royal Thai Police, the position that existed until early June.
Twice as many young people under 20 using cannabis since it was decriminalised in early June
This week, the Centre of Addiction Studies (CADS) in Thailand issued a report which noted that the number of people under 20 years of age using cannabis as a recreational drug had doubled since it was decriminalised in June.
Director Ratsamon Kalayasiri said that follow-up studies and monitoring were now crucial to see what sort of impact this was having already on society in Thailand.
‘The use of cannabis for purposes other than medical or research is a sensitive issue, and as such a good system needs to be in place to control access to the plant,’ Dr Ratsamon declared.
He claimed that the legislative proposal from the Bhumjaithai Party that was promised as a move, supported by the public in polls, to give farmers access to a lucrative cash crop has ended up being touted as a move which may attract more liberal sorts of western tourists as over 90% of crops grown by farmers have been found to have a THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) limit exceeding the 0.2% limit allowed by law for medical cannabis.
‘The Bhumjaithai Party promoted cannabis as a cash crop prior to its legalisation, and now cannabis is seen as a tourist draw. Thais have to be aware of the negative impact,’ he explained.
The impact of the Bhumjaithai Party’s cannabis revolution is also making its way into homes across the kingdom and the results are not so beneficial.
Fears over unregulated potency of products including cannabis for sale on the streets and products
Mr Patcharin Khankham, a policy and planning expert with the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) said there are rising concerns about the absence and accuracy of measurement of the legally prescribed THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) value in commercial products now being marketed at the retail level and which contain cannabis or marijuana extracts.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is set at a maximum high of 0.2% by law.
However, there is universal agreement that the pot or marijuana appearing on the market in Thailand is at sky-high levels with rates of 4% to 12%.
There is also growing concern about the potency of cannabis or marijuana in commercial products being offered for sale and purchased by the general public including food products such as soups and cookies.
Chariya Phuditchinnaphat, a psychiatrist who works with children and adolescents at the renowned Siriraj Hospital, says that a proper system for monitoring and defining the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) value of cannabis extracts in products must be implemented as a matter of urgency as there is a danger of abuse.
‘Recently, three people were admitted to Siriraj Hospital after ingesting cookies which contained more tetrahydrocannabinol than what is legally allowed under Thai laws,’ Dr Chariya explained.