Thailand’s cannabis bill dealt a blow after bigger parties demand changes citing misuse fears
- Lawmakers voted to pull the bill for further revision because of public outcry amid concerns use of the drug will stray from medical to ‘extremely recreational’
- There was a mushrooming of outlets and cafes selling cannabis products within three months of the country becoming the first in Asia to decriminalise marijuana
Thai lawmakers forced the withdrawal of a bill to regulate wider use of cannabis, saying the proposed legislation lacked enough provisions to prevent its misuse for recreation.
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives voted 198 to 136 to pull the bill and send it back to the drafting committee for further revision late on Wednesday. The cannabis and hemp bill, which passed the first reading in June and was designed to give the government more control over the industry, may now be reintroduced in November.
The unexpected resistance to the bill came from the largest opposition party Pheu Thai and Democrat party, a member of the ruling coalition. They were following a public outcry over the mushrooming of outlets and cafes selling cannabis products in Bangkok and other cities within three months of the country becoming the first in Asia to decriminalise marijuana.
“The bill doesn’t control cannabis but even promotes it, leaving room for its use to stray from medical to extremely recreational,” said Sutin Klangsang, a lawmaker from Pheu Thai, the largest party in the lower house. “We’re afraid that children and people will smoke it and become addicted.”
Since Thailand’s landmark decriminalisation, the government has repeatedly said the move was aimed at medical and commercial use and has frowned upon its use for recreational purposes. The draft bill didn’t directly outlaw recreational smoking but stated lighting up in public will be prohibited.
The parties opposed to the cannabis bill in its current form have threatened to vote against the legislation unless the revised version clamped down on recreational smoking. They are also against a clause that allows households to register and grow up to 15 cannabis plants.
The opposition to the bill was also seen as a political tussle ahead of a general election due to be called by March. The passing of the bill would hand a fresh victory to Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul’s Bhumjaithai Party, which led the drafting of the bill and spearheaded cannabis liberalisation as part of its campaign promises during the 2019 general election.
The Southeast Asian country’s push for broader legalisation for the herb makes it a trailblazer for the rest of Asia. It’s a stark contrast to its neighbours, particularly Singapore, which has a zero-tolerance stance on the drug that has led to hefty fines, prison terms or even the death penalty.