Opinion Columnists 27 Jul 2022 Lekha Shankar | Thai ...

Lekha Shankar | Thailand prepares its cannabis policy post-legalisation

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | LEKHA SHANKAR
Published Jul 27, 2022, 7:57 am IST
Updated Jul 27, 2022, 1:23 pm IST
Thai public health minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul (Image credit: Lekha Shankar)
 Thai public health minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul (Image credit: Lekha Shankar)

Huge waves were created in Thailand, on June 9, when the Thai public health minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul legalised cannabis and removed it from the list of narcotics, the first country in Asia to do so.

The Thai health minister has been prominent in the public eye, during Covid, thanks to his regular reports and messagesto the public.

Thus, his announcement created a big stir in the media, especially because the official Cannabis Act has not been passed as yet.

The minister headed a panel discussion at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT), to explain his new cannabis policy.

He referred to the election-promise made by his Bhumjaithai Party (which is part of the ruling coalition government), three years back, that they would campaign for the legalisation of marijuana. After all, the greatest quantities of the weed are grown in the northeastern part of the country, where the party has a stronghold.

The health minster pointed out that his ministry had done an intensive study of the drug for three years, after which they had become convinced of its efficacy in the treatment of many diseases, including cancer, Parkinson’s and mental disorders. It was because of the urgent need for cannabis in healthcare that he decided to legalise the drug, even before the official law could be passed.

According to him, “This is only the first stage of legalising cannabis. The second stage, which is in progress, is all about it being reviewed by a House Scrutiny Committee. After that, we will come the final stage, when the regulations and controls for the proper use of the plant will be formulated, and the law will be passed probably by September.”

He stated that the main social benefit of the ‘legalisation’ of cannabis was that many prisoners who had been arrested for drug charges, would be released.

According to the Thai health minister, only a 0.2 per cent extract of the cannabis plant would be used for medicinal purposes, and not the root or flower.

Soon after legalising the drug, they had opened an online “Let’s Grow Cannabis” page, inviting registrations. It was immediately viewed by 30 million people! One million licences were approved within the week.

The health minister informed that the legalising of cannabis would help farmers, communities and entrepreneurs, and was expected to fetch a revenue of $3 billion, within five years.

The general criticism in the panel discussion was that cannabis seemed to be a cash cow, with most of the speakers being cannabis entrepreneurs. This included Cameron Forni, one of the best-known figures in the North American cannabis industry, and founder of Select Oil, the best selling cannabis brand on the US West coast. In his detailed presentation, Forni spoke of the various aspects of the cannabis industry, including taxes, licenses and job opportunities. But he warned that the licensing would need to be streamlined, and also that the potency of the drug needed to be tested regularly, especially due to the humid conditions in Asia.  “But the economic impact is huge,” he said. “This is a huge tax opportunity for Thailand, which could raise as much as $129 billion baht by 2025 and generate as much as 4,87,000 job.”

In conversation with this writer, Forni informed her that he had been asked to research on the future of the marijuana industry in India, too, where ganja was used widely, and he had met many people in this connection, including a well-known Bollywood actor.

Meanwhile, “cannabis dispensaries” have sprung up at various places in Thailand, especially in tourist spots like Khao Sam Road in Bangkok, Walking Street in Pattaya, and so on. It’s obvious that “recreational cannabis” is the buzzword now. That’s why, the Thai government is suddenly planning to ban the sale of all cigarettes that use cannabis extract, as per the recommendation of the National Tobacco Products Control Committee. Without proper guidelines, tourism professionals are also worried about its negative impact on the tourism industry.

Sisdivachr  Cheewarattanaporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, felt that recreational cannabis should have regulated “zones” which would benefit the tourism industry.

With marijuana not being legalised in other countries, tour operators felt it imperative to explain to their clients the risks of consuming or carrying the drug, when they travelled outside Thailand. One heard of a Brazilian student being arrested in Bali for carrying cannabis he had acquired in Thailand, a crime that could fetch a 15-year jail term in Indonesia.

There are media reports in Thailand almost every day about the free availability of cannabis in markets, shops, roadside dispensaries and so on. A monthly publication listed out at least 20 bars, cafes, shops where it was freely available in Bangkok. One even heard of the discovery of newly sown cannabis plants on the grounds of Parliament!

With the Health Ministry having approved about 1,181 products containing cannabis extracts, including cosmetics and food,they were freely available in many shops. Infact, one heard of a child being sick from a food-product laced
with cannabis,bought from a 7-11 store!

This writer noticed a cannabis kiosk outside an Indian restaurant announcing “Food, Beer, Weed available” and pointed it out to the Thai health minister during the course of the discussion.

Indian tourists form a large section of tourists in Thailand.

Governor of TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) Yuthasak Supasorn said that there were no plans to promote cannabis tourism. However, one heard from travel agencies that there was a demand for “cannabis tours and packages” from many countries, including India. One also heard that there were many enquiries from business entrepreneurs to inspect cannabis farms.

On a recent visit to the spectacular EECi-headquarters at Rayong, noted for their hi-tech systems following a BCG model, one noticed their expansive glasshouses growing a series of medicinal plants. They said they expected to grow a lot of hemp too, after the recent cannabis regularisation.

The minister said, “I’m here to assure you that our aim is not to use cannabis for recreational purposes, but only for medical and health purposes. We want to establish Thailand as the hub for alternative healthcare.”

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