Thai Cannabis decriminalisation paused for further dialogue

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The push for cannabis decriminalisation in Thailand faced a hiccup as the Ministry of Public Health yesterday announced a pause in proceedings. The deferral was called for a dialogue with the public, and pro-cannabis interest groups, and to gather more views on the matter.

The initial intention behind cannabis decriminalisation in Thailand was always medical, not recreational use. However, the draft bill’s vague stance on enforcing a total ban on recreational use even in private residences has sparked some debate. The bill describes recreational use as “usage for pleasure and enjoyment,” which leaves room for interpretation.

Furthermore, the proposed 60,000 baht (US$1,662) penalty for recreational use raised eyebrows, given that it’s higher than fines for other crimes such as driving under the influence. There are fears that this may be exploited by corrupt officials, particularly against foreign tourists, reported The Pattaya News.

Defenders of the draft bill argue that it will make it harder for young people to access cannabis and that it will facilitate the policing of appropriate cannabis use.

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There’s a unanimous agreement that cannabis needs to be regulated and that laws must be in place. Both sides concur on various aspects, particularly around prohibiting the illegal import of foreign marijuana and not allowing foreign entities to dominate the Thai cannabis industry. There’s also concurrence on clear labelling of cannabis products, advertising guidelines, tax and licensing, though the tax rate is a point of contention.

Despite this, the recurring debates over recreational use, and what differentiates it from medical use, have delayed the introduction of cannabis legislation for nearly two years. If a draft bill isn’t presented to Parliament soon, the current ambiguity will persist until a new bill is drafted.

Pro-cannabis proposal

Today, on Valentine’s Day 2024, pro-cannabis activist groups plan to meet in Bangkok near Parliament to propose their alternative version of a cannabis bill. Their proposal wouldn’t legalise public recreational use but would confine it to private spaces while stipulating legal penalties for smoking in public places.

Ironically, it was a recent public concert by Coldplay that inspired the Minister of Public Health to expedite the cannabis legislation. The draft bill was to be rushed through the Cabinet, only to be stalled for further public consultation.

The delay is seen as a hopeful sign of common ground. If both the cannabis industry and the Department of Public Health can agree on a draft bill, it could avoid a potential Parliament showdown or protests from business owners. It would likely also ensure compliance from cannabis shop owners, provide tax revenue, and create a win-win situation for all parties involved.

While it’s not guaranteed that this will happen, after two years of arguments over cannabis, a straightforward ban on all recreational use wouldn’t likely be effectively enforced, would potentially be abused by corrupt law enforcement, and would push sales back underground, limiting government control and tax revenue.

It’s hoped that all parties will reach an agreement and that the Thai government will seriously consider the alternative draft being prepared by pro-cannabis activists. Both sides have consistently agreed that reclassifying marijuana entirely as a narcotic, which would reintroduce prison sentences for users, is not the solution.

If they can’t find common ground and the current draft law is approved, there’s a real risk of a class action lawsuit by cannabis shops against the Thai government, which would be a prolonged, emotional, and messy battle.

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Top is a multifaceted news writer with a keen interest in real estate and travel. Top currently covers local Thai news at Thaiger. As a travel buff, Top blogs about his travels- around the world and Thailand- during his free time.

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