Thailand’s New Health Minister Tells Reporters The Ministry Is Gathering “Public Opinion” On Cannabis

Mint reports

Thailand’s new health minister said he plans to review the country’s cannabis policy, signaling a possible u-turn that could make marijuana a narcotic again after it became the first country in Asia to decriminalize the plant.

The ministry is in the process of gathering public opinion to weigh how open Thailand should be to cannabis, Somsak Thepsuthin said in his first remarks on the controversial topic after taking over as health minister on Tuesday. Somsak had served as justice minister under the previous administration of Prayuth Chan-Ocha, which decriminalized cannabis in 2022 to free up the plant for medicinal use and as a cash crop.

“I’d like to ask the people if it should be a drug or not, and how liberalized it should be,” Somsak told reporters. “It shouldn’t be that just anybody can grow it or smoke it and cause nuisance. Where are we meeting on the issue, and how?”

Somsak’s comments signal yet another bump in Thailand’s cannabis liberalization that’s pitched as a way to boost agricultural income and wellness tourism. His predecessor, Cholnan Srikaew, told Bloomberg earlier this year that he would seek to ban recreational use of cannabis, threatening to put out of business thousands of marijuana shops and farms that have sprung up around the country over the last two years.

A bill seeking to outlaw recreational use, tighter licensing rules on planting, sales, exports and imports of cannabis has been delayed while going through bureaucratic process, as opposition from industry groups mounted. Cholnan failed to get a cabinet approval by March as planned, and now it remains unclear whether Somsak would take the bill forward or scrap it in favor of re-criminalization.

Liberal use of cannabis in Thailand became a hot-button political issue ahead of the national election last year. With efforts to establish regulations around the marijuana industry failing, a legal vacuum has fueled drug addiction, according to some politicians.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has also vowed to restrict the use of marijuana to just medical purposes. Srettha’s Pheu Thai Party promoted a hard-line anti-drug campaign ahead of the election and pledged to eradicate drugs from Thai society. Earlier this week, Srettha gave a 90-day deadline for law enforcement and local authorities to crack down on drugs in 25 provinces considered as “red zones.”

Almost 8,000 dispensaries and a large number of consumer-agro firms have cropped up across Thailand, selling everything from cannabis buds to oil extracts and weed-infused candy to baked goods. Under current decriminalization laws, cannabis the products must not contain more than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol — the psychoactive compound that provides a “high” sensation — to be considered legal.

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