The future trajectory of cannabis for medicinal use in Thailand has come under scrutiny once again. Dr Cholnan Srikaew, the newly instated Public Health Minister, has pledged to reassess the present cannabis policy architected by his predecessor, Anutin Charnvirakul, the head of the Bhumjaithai Party (BJP). The call for this change germinated from an uptick in youth using the drug for leisure and an increased presence of recreational cannabis vendors in large urban areas, some in close proximity to educational establishments.

In the previous week, Thailand’s prime minister committed to eradicating recreational cannabis consumption within a six-month period. The head of the government argued that the unchecked proliferation of cannabis stores has detracted from, rather than added to, the solidity of tourism in the last year. However, the government settled on retaining medical cannabis after the proposed review.

Advocates for cannabis sanction and practitioners of traditional medicine harbour reservations. Before the 9th of June last year, a longstanding law had criminalized cannabis use. Despite the allowance for medicinal use of the plant, procuring it remained a challenge, necessitating permits from the public health ministry for patients and traditional medicine practitioners.

Tracing back into Thailand’s history, before cannabis was deemed illegal in 1935, its domestic, recreational and medicinal uses were common. Traditional Thai medicinal uses of cannabis stretch back around 300 years.

Thailand’s Cannabis Future Network plans to send a petition next month urging the government to weigh opinions from all demographics rather than just medical professionals and anti-cannabis campaigners that seemingly have the public minister’s heed. The network is even pushing the public health ministry to draw comparisons between alcohol, cigarettes, and cannabis.

Prasitchai Nunual, the network’s leader, cautioned that the cannabis policy under the new minister may constrict local medicinal practitioners and patients, restraining the potential growth of the traditional Thai medicine industry. Under the new regulations, only the health ministry will decide who and what can manage cannabis; this, Nunual warned, could allow only affluent investors to dominate the worldwide popular cannabis medicines.

While there is unanimous agreement that the current unregulated consumption of cannabis needs rectification, we should also consider that the present disorder is a byproduct of earlier political manoeuvres that deferred the necessary cannabis bill. The Cannabis and Hemp Control Bill, which included many protective measures, was declined during its second reading in parliament at the start of this year.

Instead of regressing to the past, the public health ministry and the Pheu Thai-led government should focus on rectifying the glaring issues. Reconsideration of the draft law and deciding on the future route for appropriate use of cannabis in Thailand should be prioritised.

Known for stimulating economic growth and its utilization in profitable wellness and pharmaceutical sectors, cannabis should not be perceived as a societal threat. The government should strive for a compromise that plays to the benefit of all. It is important to remember at this point, how cannabis has been an advantage rather than detriment. Rather than restricting its use, we should be learning to navigate and regulate its benefits in a more effective manner.

As a disclaimer, the opinions expressed in this article don’t reflect those of High Thailand.

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