Why was Thailand’s cannabis bill voted down and will this derail legalization?
The shooting down of the marijuana bill in Parliament last week sparked concerns on both sides of the debate.
The pro-pot camp is worried the legalization of cannabis will be reversed, while others – including many doctors – are afraid that consumption of cannabis without proper controls will continue.
Will marijuana become illegal again?
MPs from two major parties – the Democrats and Pheu Thai – have called for a review of the draft law’s content, but they have also suggested that it may be time to reconsider whether cannabis should be removed from the list of illegal narcotics.
Chaithawat Tulathon, secretary-general of the opposition Move Forward Party, called on Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul to cancel the decriminalization of cannabis until the Marijuana Act is implemented.
Anutin is also leader of the coalition’s Bhumjaithai Party, whose key election promise was to legalize marijuana.
As such, Bhumjaithai insists it will do everything to ensure the recent legalization is not reversed.
The party’s pro-marijuana stance has won the support of many groups in Thailand. These include the People’s Cannabis Network, which described the House of Representatives’ rejection of the bill during its second reading as a “big disappointment”.
“MPs should realize that there are people in their areas who require cannabis for health reasons,” the network’s key man Thanachoke Tienrungroj said.
Why was the bill shot down?
Prasert Chanruangthong, Pheu Thai Party’s secretary-general, said the bill had only 46 articles in the first reading, but that suddenly grew to twice as many in the second reading.
“I have to say the addition of more than 40 new articles is unprecedented,” Prasert commented. “We have to exercise caution. We have no objection to marijuana being used for medical reasons but we are worried about recreational use.”
Democrat MP Satit Wongnongtoey said the marijuana bill was problematic because it does not ease the worries of doctors and families over marijuana’s negative effects.
Pheu Thai, which leads the opposition, and government coalition partner the Democrat Party deny their opposition to the bill is part of a political game.
However, the Democrats are reportedly upset that Bhumjaithai had earlier opposed their decision to keep collecting interest on student loans.
What was added to the bill?
Suphachai Jaismut, Bhumjaithai Party’s registrar, argued that the extra articles added to the bill were necessary to strengthen rules on consuming cannabis. For instance, one new article bans people under the age of 20 from using cannabis in any form.
Pheu Thai’s deputy leader Suthin Klangsaeng, however, complained that several changes were questionable. He cited the change in the maximum number of cannabis plants each household could grow, from six in the first reading of the bill to 15 in the second reading.
What do doctors say?
More than 1,000 doctors have signed a petition calling on authorities to urgently plug the legal loopholes opened after cannabis was taken off the narcotics list. Since there is no single comprehensive law governing its use, consumption of cannabis is now unregulated in many aspects.
“Thailand has been very liberal in terms of cannabis usage for more than three months now. Without clear and proper regulations, recreational marijuana has spread through different communities and reached children as well as vulnerable people,” the petition said.
“Don’t wait for the bill to be legislated. The longer this legal vacuum exists, the more the country will be damaged.”
Earlier this month, the Medical Association of Thailand, the Medical Council and several specialist colleges released a statement voicing their concerns. The statement also claimed that the policy of treating marijuana as a non-narcotic substance and allowing people to grow and use the herb to treat health conditions would do more harm than good.
“Consuming marijuana can be addictive and can have long-term health impacts, including mental illness,” it said. “Homegrown marijuana can be contaminated and people lack sufficient medical knowledge to administer it properly,” the statement added.
The draft bill has been withdrawn and sent for further review before it can be tabled for debate again in Parliament. However, the House of Representatives’ current term ends in March next year, meaning the bill may not be passed during this Parliament.
Anutin said Bhumjaithai would continue to push for the bill during the next election if it fails to pass under this Parliament