Cabinet shake-up plants seeds for cannabis reform in Thailand

The Thai Cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin could spark high-stakes changes to the cannabis bill after former Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin replaced Public Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew.

Cholnan, who led the charge in the cannabis debate, faced a blaze of controversy over the plant’s legalisation in 2022 by Anutin Charnvirakul, the former Public Health Minister, now doubling as the Minister of the Interior and Deputy Prime Minister.

Since the green light on legalisation, Thailand’s cannabis laws have been in a hazy limbo, igniting a two-year tug-of-weed between advocates and opponents. While some push for a joint effort towards better regulation, others call for a complete pot-back to criminalisation.

Meanwhile, a herbal empire worth billions of Baht has budded across the nation, with countless unregulated marijuana shops and dispensaries cropping up.

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Somsak, the incoming health minister, was the justice minister when cannabis was decriminalised in 2022 and had stated multiple times that he supported that move at the time as it had overfilled prisons with non-violent drug users and offenders.

The cannabis industry, while claiming to be for medical use, has seen rampant recreational use, similar to the situation with prostitution in Thailand. Recriminalising marijuana won’t make it disappear.

Cannabis draft

Somsak recently stated his support for moving forward on the cannabis draft act, which is officially for medical reasons. However, the act has been mired in debate due to opposition from groups calling for substantial changes.

Cannabis activists claim this rule would be abused by corrupt officials to mainly extort foreigners for cash, like vaping previously.

One particular point of contention is the rule that foreigners must have a medical certificate to use cannabis. Opponents argue that corrupt officials could exploit this rule and it is too ambiguous in distinguishing medical use from recreational use.

Recently, the debate was further fuelled by statements from PM Srettha that suggested a move towards criminalising cannabis use again. He believes that cannabis has caused significant social issues, particularly among the youth, with minimal economic benefits.

However, the 62 year old Thai prime minister did not offer specific examples or data to support his claims.

Anutin, the champion of decriminalisation of marijuana, delivered a passionate rebuttal to the Thai PM, stating that cannabis has significant medical benefits and should not be banned.

Cannabis ban

Caught in the crossfire of this debate was the now-former Minister of Public Health, Cholnan. He had been trying to find a compromise, acknowledging that public opinion did not support a cannabis ban.

However, his attempts to mediate were complicated by the staunch opposition from the Bangkok-born Srettha and his Pheu Thai Party, who had originally opposed decriminalisation in 2022.

Adding to the complexity is the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra, the so-called godfather of the Pheu Thai Party. Shinawatra has publicly expressed his disdain for cannabis, leading a war on drugs, including cannabis, several decades ago.

Somsak enters this complex scenario as the new Health Minister. He is an experienced politician with friends on both sides of the debate.

While it is widely believed that the ongoing cannabis issue is the reason behind the ministerial change, Somsak’s stance remains to be seen. He has called for further regulation of cannabis, acknowledging the size and growth potential of the industry.

With his knowledge of legal processes from his time in the justice ministry, Somsak could potentially roll back cannabis laws but would likely face challenges from activists on the medical benefits of the plant.

As the cannabis draft bill continues to hang in limbo, activists and prohibitionists eagerly watch the situation. The upcoming months promise to be interesting as the bill is slated to go to Parliament for debate, reported Pattaya News.

Amidst all this, Anutin, the champion of decriminalisation, is likely to oppose any move to recriminalise cannabis, potentially causing tension within the government coalition.

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Bob Scott

Bob Scott is an experienced writer and editor with a passion for travel. Born and raised in Newcastle, England, he spent more than 10 years in Asia. He worked as a sports writer in the north of England and London before relocating to Asia. Now he resides in Bangkok, Thailand, where he is the Editor-in-Chief for The Thaiger English News. With a vast amount of experience from living and writing abroad, Bob Scott is an expert on all things related to Asian culture and lifestyle.

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