Thai cannabis supporters plan legal challenge of policy u-turn

Hundreds of cannabis entrepreneurs, farmers and activists rallied in Bangkok and threatened legal action against the Thai government as it pushes ahead with a plan to reclassify marijuana as a narcotic just two years after decriminalizing it.

At Tuesday’s rally in front of the United Nations’ regional headquarters in the Thai capital, nearly 2,000 signatures were collected in support of a legal petition to stall the government’s move. Cannabis advocates held posters with messages like “stop villainizing cannabis.”

The petition would be filed with an administrative court against Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, said Jerawat Tanyaprirom, a cannabis business owner who collected the signatures. The forms required petitioners to specify any financial losses they would suffer if the government goes ahead with the u-turn.

“If the government backed down, we wouldn’t need to file this petition. But we want to have this as an ammunition,” Jerawat said. 

A complete re-criminalization ordered by Srettha earlier this month has thrown the local cannabis industry into fresh uncertainties. Srettha said Thailand would put cannabis back into the list of “category five” narcotics —  which would make it a crime to “produce, sell, import, export, or possess” the plant and use it — after the Southeast Asian nation became the first in Asia to decriminalize the plant in 2022. 

Cannabis currently enjoys the status of a “controlled herb” in Thailand and there is no outright ban on its recreational use, allowing thousands of dispensaries to flourish since 2022, selling everything from cannabis buds to oil extracts, weed-infused candy and baked goods that, under the current drug law, must contain no more than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol — the psychoactive compound known as THC that provides a “high” sensation. 

Most cannabis advocacy groups want the government to regulate the industry by passing a legislation, instead of a blanket re-criminalization. 

“If we use the narcotics law, we will be putting cannabis back in jail and allowing it to be grown by only some groups of people,” Writing Thailand’s Cannabis Future, an advocacy group, said in a statement on Tuesday. The group also called for a fresh rally on June 9, the date that marks the second anniversary of Thailand’s decriminalization policy.

More than 1 million households have registered with Thai authorities to plant cannabis in addition to commercial cultivation by companies seeking to benefit from the booming demand. Cannabis for medical and health purposes will still be allowed, according to the premier. –BLOOMBERG