Thailand’s cannabis confusion

My guess is that nobody had really believed it would happen.

Fair enough, it had been an election campaign promise of Thailand’s Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul back in 2019, but this would not be the first time an election promise was broken.

Then suddenly, in early June, Thailand took Cannabis off the list of narcotics. Overnight, import, export, production, distribution, consumption and possession of Cannabis was suddenly legal.

Prisoners convicted of possessing or growing Cannabis were released, one million Cannabis plants were distributed to households, growers just had to register via a mobile phone app.  It looked like the police was taken by surprise. Suddenly, everybody smoked weed and surely, part of this would still be illegal, right?

The Chinese embassy was quick to post a warning on its website, telling its citizens to be careful. While it seemed OK to consume cannabis, do not try to bring some of it back to China. Do not try to take it to any other country. The Thai authorities will not stop you, but in all the rest of Asia, possession of cannabis remains illegal, the embassy reminded its citizens.

The Thai government tried to dissuade people from lighting up for fun, stressing the plant’s medical virtues and its potential as a cash crop. But their words fell on dry land. People now smoke it everywhere. Every delicious Thai dish can be found with added fun. Parents take cookies home and leave them on the kitchen table – then later rush their kids to hospital after they had sneaked one.  Some people offer Cannabis laced food to others without informing them of the special ingredient.

Compared to tobacco and alcohol, it is not clear to anybody to what degree producing, selling, smoking, Cannabis is now legal.

Cannabis is not a harmless substance. Frequent use of cannabis is connected to impaired cognitive ability and increased risk of psychotic symptoms. Growing evidence points at cannabis use being a mental health risk.

In the Nordic countries, often believed to be lighthouses for other countries, Cannabis remains an illegal substance although a growing number of young people occasionally use it. Not every body, though. Among the 16 to 34 year old, 7-8 percent of the young people in Norway and Sweden use it, while in Denmark the number is 15 percent. So, even in Denmark, 85 percent of the age group do not use it.

The legislation in the Nordic countries make a distinction between hard and soft drugs. Cannabis is considered a soft drug. But it is a drug and it is an illegal substance. For many years, the police and the courts have been very lenient on possessing and smoking smaller amounts of cannabis – 10 gram is usually the limit, Above that it is “more illegal”.  But recently, at least  in Denmark, the police is toughening up on the drugs, and meanwhile the judicial system has increased the maximum penalty for drug offences from 10 years to 16 years imprisonment. 

More on the subject is here: https://nordicwelfare.org/en/publikationer/cannabislegislation/

I am sure the Thai authorities knew that taking cannabis off the list of narcotic drugs would initially lead to a mess. But I guess putting the regulations in place first would water down the de-criminalizing to a point where it became meaningless. As a result we will likely see a lot of patching up over the next couple of years, chasing problems as they occur, trying to plug holes here and there which eventually will bring one regulation in conflict with another.

Next year, it is likely to be a subject in the next general election in Thailand.

 

 

About Gregers Møller

Editor-in-Chief • ScandAsia Publishing Co., Ltd. • Bangkok, Thailand

View all posts by Gregers Møller

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