The man credited with making smoking weed legal in Thailand last night stood firm and said it was the right thing to face questions about its consequences.
Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, Anutin Charnvirakul said he was right to stage the sudden and comprehensive change, despite the fact that it happened before any basic regulations were in place.
“Unfortunately, due to the COVID issue, the Cannabis Act could not be completed alongside the date we freed cannabis from narcotics. Did I not wait for the law to be imposed? Certainly not. No sir. I will not wait. I will never delay. Even if I could go back in time,” Anutin said in English.
Public Health Minister and party leader Bhumjaithai spoke 27 days after cannabis was removed from the controlled substances list and amid a tabloid-fueled backlash that he went too far, too fast .
Despite these criticisms, Anutin repeatedly insisted that the sole purpose of decriminalizing cannabis was to improve people’s well-being and quality of life.
“Because there were patients waiting for their treatments with herbal remedies. There were farmers waiting to harvest and get their first crop, waiting for their income during the current economic hardship,” the 55-year-old politician said. “There were SMEs, investments, planning and agreements that were ready to go. It would be unfair for the government to cause this damage to these honest people.
Less than a week after contracting COVID-19 and returning to work without self-isolating as advised by his ministry, Anutin was wearing a mask and appeared to be struggling to breathe.
Anutin’s defense took a sharp turn today with the news that he sued a popular TV commentator for defamation last month.
Voice TV host Nattakorn Devakula said this morning that he was summoned by police to the political hotbed of Anutin in Buriram province for saying on air that pressure from Anutin and Bhumjaithai for legal weed was “immoral” and encouraged drug addiction.
At the FCCT, Anutin was joined by his adviser, investor Julpas “Tom” Kruesopon, attorney Chokwan “Kitty” Chopaka, Gloria Lai of the International Drug Policy Consortium and cannabis mogul Cameron Forni.
He predicted that Thailand’s future cannabis industry would be worth up to US$3 billion and benefit broad sections of society, from farmers to entrepreneurs.
Thailand will become a “medical hub” in Asia and beyond over the next five years, he said.
While the Cannabis Act passed its first reading in parliament on June 8, it still has weeks to go before it returns to the court. Anutin said the regulations should be in place no later than September.
“A group of commissioners was elected to amend the bill and propose to the [parliament] for final approval,” he said. “It should be done in August or the end of September.”
The bill contains an age limit and a ban on selling to pregnant and breastfeeding women, rules already in place by an emergency ordinance issued a week after it was legalized.
On June 9, cannabis became completely legal. Only “extracts” containing the psychoactive compound THC (any amount above 0.2%) such as edibles, oils, waxes and tinctures – remain controlled.
Decriminalization was so complete that law enforcement had no tool left but to threaten to fine people under public nuisance laws for smoking in public or annoying their neighbors.
Since then, ill-conceived news stories have blamed cannabis for all sorts of ills, including deaths and even a man cutting off his penis.
While Anutin continues to insist that his administration only promotes cannabis for medical purposes — despite the de facto legalization of recreational smoking — Kitty suggested the government could have educated the public better.
“I understand that the Department of Health cannot promote recreational use or smoking, but at the same time, by not giving information to the public, people wouldn’t know what to do,” Kitty said. “Think about it. If you keep telling them ‘just say no’ or ‘don’t do it wrong’ or ‘don’t do that’ without telling them how to do it, what are you going to expect?”
While the final shape of the cannabis law remains to be seen, Kitty said Thailand has struggled with a general lack of knowledge about issues such as nepotism and corruption.
Sensible rules are also needed, she said.
“I want rules that make sense,” Kitty said. “Because if the rules don’t make sense, people just won’t follow. It’s the same as taxes: if you add a tax of 40% to 50%, it doesn’t make sense. And people will go back into hiding.