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Cannabis advocates in Thailand protest a proposal to ban again its general use

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BANGKOK (AP) — Two years after marijuana was decriminalized in Thailand, nearly a hundred of its advocates marched to the prime minister’s office Monday to protest a possible ban on general use.

A health ministry drug control committee approved Friday a proposal to relist cannabis as a narcotic to be only allowed for medical and research purposes. The proposition is set to be submitted to the Office of the Narcotics Control Board this week, and if agreed on, will take effect Jan.1.

Cannabis activists and entrepreneurs, some carrying potted marijuana plants, gathered at the United Nations headquarters in central Bangkok Monday as they prepared to head to the Government House, nearly 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) away.

Prasitchai Nunuan, a representative of a pro-cannabis network of individuals, addressed the protesters, saying that marijuana should be separately regulated by the health ministry instead of criminalizing the plant yet again. He accused the government of outlawing the drug to allow only a few interest groups to benefit from its medical uses.

“This fight for cannabis is not only for medical security or people’s rights but also for destroying the monopoly of politicians taking (its) benefits away from the people,” he said.

Chokwan “Kitty” Chopaka, a cannabis shop owner in Bangkok and activist, also accused the current Thai Cabinet of allowing politics to manipulate such a decision and called on officials to come up with a policy that benefits the majority of people.

“Who are you to judge what they use it for and how they use it?” she added.

Police barricaded the road leading to the Government House, effectively stopping the protesters from marching ahead. who then set up a camp in the area and announced they would remain in place until the government responded to their demands. An official later received the group’s written petition.

In May, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said he wanted to outlaw cannabis again, sparking several protests from advocates who claimed the decision would be damaging to the economy. Legal cannabis has fueled Thailand’s tourism and farming sectors and spawned thousands of cannabis retails ranging from shops, trucks to market stalls all over the country.

Pock Pechthong, a cannabis grower who joined Monday’s march, said while more regulations are needed, a radical rollback will hurt a lot of people who have invested in the business.

“Everybody’s spent a lot of money already. I’m a grower, so our main concern is not being able to grow or use it,” he said.

After cannabis was decriminalized in 2022, it was initially said that it would be allowed only for medicinal use, but in practice, the market remained virtually unregulated, prompting public backlash and concerns over misuse and crime, which the government has cited as reasons for the proposal.

Last month, Health Minister Somsak Thepsuthin said the ministry conducted an online survey and that no less than 80% of the 111,201 participants approved the ban. However, the results were not publicly shared.

Bhumjaithai Party, headed by Anutin Charnvirakul, spearheaded decriminalizing marijuana in the country and promised at the time farmers in its stronghold in the impoverished northeast that it would be a new cash crop.

Anutin, who headed the health ministry in 2022, pushed for an amendment to the Narcotics Law, dropping cannabis from the list of controlled substances. Currently the interior minister, the party head has publically opposed the proposed ban, saying while Bhumjaithai does not support recreational uses of cannabis, the rollback will impact the cannabis industry.

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Associated Press writers Jintamas Saksornchai contributed to this report.

By SAM HARSHBARGER
Associated Press

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