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r/CannabisThailand Newsletter - Issue #72
The sky is falling! The sky is falling!
After weeks of cannabis news being as scarce as my friends when the bill arrives, we have a humdinger of a piece of news out of the Ministry of Public Health this week.
Chicken Little is alive and well folks!
The Public Health Ministry has completed the first draft of the Cannabis-Hemp Act and said it will not reclassify cannabis as a narcotic, Public Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew said on Friday.
Okay, so this seems like good news to me. Pheu Thai was very hot on reclassifying cannabis as a narcotic and their own Minister of Public Health is seemingly recommending otherwise.
However, the important takeaway here is the words, “first draft” which means that it is open to revision and clarification.
Dr Cholnan said the new law is based on amendments to the first draft, which has 94 sections. The new version has about 70 sections. It has been updated to address various public concerns or loopholes that allow people to use cannabis for recreational purposes, he added.
More good news that Cholnan used the old Cannabis Bill to draft the new Cannabis Bill since the old Cannabis Bill was written by the people that legalized cannabis in the first place.
But what’s this stuff about no recreational? As I’ve covered in previous newsletters, medicinal is a term that Thais feel more comfortable with regardless of what it means in practice.
Based on Thai-language reporting, Thais seem very concerned about recreational use of cannabis. Both because of the fact that they’ve been fed anti-cannabis propaganda for longer than most Thais have been alive, but also because of the way Thailand went from mandatory five year imprisonment to 6,000 dispensaries in less than a year. Suddenly a drug that you’ve been told is evil your entire life is available on every street corner where your children (20 years or older, of course) can openly buy it.
So let’s not fret too much over the words “medicinal” or “recreational” just yet. Consider it more of a translation issue than a legal distinction.
The core of the law still defines cannabis as a controlled herb, while any extract that contains more than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) remains listed as a narcotic.
Same rules as today. Cannabis has been considered a controlled herb for over a year now and extracts with more than 0.2% THC have always been illegal.
"The minister still supports the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes but not for recreational use, so those who grow cannabis -- even for personal use -- must have permission under the new law," Mr Cholnan said.
Requiring permission to grow for personal use is new. But, it’s really no surprise.
People are supposed to register their personal grows via the Plook Ganja app now but there is no penalty for not registering. This seems like it will simply put some sort of requirement to register instead of making it quasi-voluntary.
The first version of the Cannabis and Hemp Law allowed a household to grow up to 15 plants for personal use, such as for treating some sickness. They merely needed to inform local authorities, but under the new law, they must seek permission first.
It’s gone from “notification” (which many people didn’t do because there was no penalty for not doing it) to “permission” which indicates that one must ask and receive approval.
As long as the approval process is relatively straightforward, this should not be an issue for most people.
Cannabis shops that already have a licence can continue their business, but they need to comply with the new law, for example, by prohibiting the smoking of cannabis on their premises and not selling dried cannabis buds.
This one is a little more mixed in that it’s good news that cannabis shops will be allowed to continue to operate and not allowing people to smoke cannabis on the premises is already prohibited, but the throwaway line at the end about not selling dried cannabis buds is definitely of concern.
How can one have a cannabis shop that cannot sell flower? Given the previous statement that extracts with a THC content of 0.2% or higher are still narcotics, that would mean that cannabis shops would become CBD shops.
First off, I’m convinced this is a misquote or misunderstanding. For the reasons above, they would effectively be putting 6,000 dispensaries out of business because nobody is going to be able to make serious money selling CBD. Can you imagine how much CBD a shop like Wonderland on Sukhumvit Road would need to sell to cover just their rent?
Let’s see the final details on this one before we start worrying. It’s highly likely it’s a misunderstanding and even if it’s not, it would still need to get by parliament before becoming law.
The law will also clarify which venues cannot sell or allow cannabis on their premises.
Again, this seems like clarification on existing laws. You already can’t allow cannabis consumption on the premises of your dispensary without a physician present and the government has not put out any information about what qualifications the physician needs or how to even go about being in compliance. So maybe this is just elaborating on that.
It may also formalize rules like cannabis not being allowed to be consumed in public buildings, near schools, etc.
"We will not shut down all cannabis shops, but they need to comply with the law. The new law will not allow them to sell cannabis buds for people to smoke or even have equipment for customers to smoke inside their shops. In the past, we could not control the usage, but with the new law, using cannabis for recreational purposes will be prohibited," he said.
This is another confusing gobbledygook of words.
Yes, of course cannabis shops need to comply with the law. That’s kind of a no-brainer and applies to any person or business.
The next sentence has the potential to be frightening but once you read it in full, it actually makes sense and doesn’t say anything new.
I read that sentence as saying that, yet again, dispensaries cannot allow smoking on the premises, nor sell flower or have equipment available to smoke cannabis on the premises without a physician.
If you don’t live in Thailand or you don’t visit a lot of dispensaries, many dispensaries openly allow consumption on the premises. You can use bongs supplied by the shop. Some even have Volcano desktop vaporizers for customers to use.
These shops are clearly violating existing laws and the Minister of Public Health is saying that the current laws do not give the police any teeth to enforce the law but this new law will.
I’m actually delighted by the last sentence though. If Cholnan believes recreational use is killed by not allowing people to smoke in dispensaries, I’m thrilled.
When asked if smoking cannabis at home will be illegal, he said that remains a grey area pending more public feedback.
Yet another source of potential good news as one cannot smoke cannabis at home if flower is illegal.
This sounds like the Ministry of Public Health kicked the responsibility for defining this onto the public and parliament.
For instance, a big story in the Thai-language media has been about a baby that had an allergic reaction to cannabis smoke from a neighbor’s apartment. In this particular case, the offending neighbors were renters and the condo owner evicted them but what if the owner is the offending party?
It was probably wise for the Ministry of Public Health to leave that as a political question and not a health issue as it crosses over into land use, public freedoms, etc.
When asked if cannabis and hemp should have separate laws, he said this issue has been raised. However, according to the current law, hemp is considered a kind of cannabis, just one with low levels of THC, he noted.
This is more of a procedural issue and may mean different rules would apply to hemp which could open up farming and manufacturing possibilities without having to go through more stringent cannabis laws and doesn’t really impact most cannabis users.
He said the ministry will create a window for the public to read the law and provide feedback by mid-December. People will have two weeks to offer their opinions, and the minister will analyse whether the law should be updated before submitting it to the cabinet.
This just gives us timelines on what’s next. There will be a public feedback period which will surely receive input from everyone from dispensary owners to growers, as well as anti-cannabis advocates. Then they will rewrite the proposal and submit it to the cabinet to debate.
If they won’t have the public feedback until mid or late December, the revised draft probably will not make it to parliament until Jan 2024 at the earliest. Then there would be a period of readings and debate in parliament until they arrive at a bill that can be voted on or it will be withdrawn entirely if it doesn’t seem to have enough support.
Those that have followed the recent elections via this newsletter will note that Thai politics are prone to drama so regardless of what is or isn’t currently in this Minister of Public Health’s bill, it’s unlikely to be the final version and BJT/Anutin have not weighed in on the issue yet.
As I recently said, watch how Anutin has been saying that he will support Pheu Thai’s big campaign promise, the 10,000 baht digital wallet, if it’s legal. That’s a signal that PT can’t just assume they’ll get BJT’s vote for the program.
That means Anutin and the BJT Party have a lot of leverage over PT at the moment. PT can’t pass the measure without 100% coalition support and if BJT makes their support conditional on changes to the cannabis bill, PT will have to swallow their pride and make the changes.
Mind you, I’m not predicting anything. I simply look at all of the variables and then match that up with likely outcomes. I could very easily be wrong on any portion of this analysis. Maybe they are proposing making it illegal for dispensaries to sell flower, I just don’t think that that fits with the other facts stated in the article.
Bottom line, or TL;DR or however we refer to a summary these days:
The Ministry of Public Health has a draft cannabis bill
The bill is significantly influenced by the previous cannabis bill submitted last year
The bill DOES NOT classify cannabis as a narcotic (except for extracts with a THC content of 0.2% or greater)
The bill will require people to seek permission to grow for personal use
The bill will put some sort of restrictions on smoking cannabis on the premises of a cannabis dispensary
The bill will be put out for public feedback in December and then reworked and submitted to parliament. This puts earliest possible implementation at around Feb 2024.
The minister’s choice of words leaves some confusion as he has said that flower will not be allowed to be sold but it’s unclear if he means for consumption on the premises of the dispensary or if he meant a complete ban on THC sales.
So, let the Chicken Little’s crow on for now.
Stay lifted and enlightened,
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