‘It’s idiotic’: Advocates say lawmakers playing politics with Cannabis Act

‘It’s idiotic’: Advocates say lawmakers playing politics with Cannabis Act

Cannabis activists reacted with dismay Friday to lawmakers’ decision to shoot down legislation that would regulate cannabis, saying it was a self-defeating political move.

Longtime advocates said opposition lawmakers missed the opportunity to put needed regulations in place by voting down the Cannabis Act on Wednesday. They believe it was a disingenuous display to score points ahead of next year’s elections that belied their own ties to the budding industry.

“It’s idiotic,” said Arun Avery, cofounder of pro-cannabis advocacy group Highland Network. “Both parties [which opposed the bill], Democrat and Pheu Thai, we know their relatives, even their children are invested in the cannabis business. And they know damn well this is where the money is.”

Members of both parties said the bill did not go far enough to rein in recreational smoking, which was made possible by the full decriminalization of weed in June. 

Thailand’s Cannabis Act stalls in Parliament as lawmakers dig in

By failing to put the act in place, the current status quo – a weed free-for-all in which few rules exist – will continue, possibly until a new government is elected next year.

“Throwing the act away because of political reasons is very selfish,” said Sukhumweed Industries founder Soranut “Beer” Masayavanich. “The reason is purely politics.”

He said it was “really important” to pass the act, which he described as a copy-paste of the Alcohol Act. Inaction, he said, would benefit illicit entities who would “be happy there’s no law.”

From left, Soranut ‘Beer’ Masayavanich, Parin Tongwaranan, and Siraphop ‘Non’ Rahong pose for a photo at Sukhumweed dispensary. Photo: Chayanit Itthipongmaetee / Coconuts Bangkok

He said refusing to move the bill forward contradicted lawmakers’ stated opposition to recreational smoking, because it leaves the post-legalization “legal vacuum” in place. 

“Nothing has changed though, everything is the same,” he said. “We just regulate ourselves instead of having an act that regulates us.”

Up in smoke?

Arun said that while it was technically possible to recriminalize cannabis, he thought it was exceedingly unlikely.

“Yes, technically it can be done,” he said. “But that would be a really embarrassing move for Thailand as a country on the global stage.”

Those who voted against the bill were fully aware of the implications, he said.

“It’s kind of stupid and unproductive, since they voted no, they actually pushed the whole process back in time,” he added. “The draft of the regulations needs to be sent back to the committee level for them to rework the bill.”

Highland’s Arun Avery plays budtender on June 9, 2022, at Highland Cafe. Photo: Chayanit Itthipongmaetee / Coconuts Bangkok

There is no way that cannabis could go back to being criminal, said Kajkanit “Gem” Sakdisubha, owner of The Dispensary by Taratera, a business which has in short time expanded to two more locations including one in Chiang Mai.

“Millions of people and farmers have already planted cannabis. If the bill were not to pass, what would happen to them then? Would authorities go after them and arrest them?” Kajkanit said by phone today. 

Fickle policy making and unmaking is just bad business, he added.

“Investors wouldn’t be confident in the businesses, and the legal loopholes will only continue,” Kajkanit said.

Parliament goes into recess Sunday and then has only several months to act when it resumes in November before general elections are held.

The politically powerful health minister who made legalization the centerpiece of his time in the cabinet also blamed it on “playing politics” and told people to shift the blame to the parties who “attempt to delay it.”

Kajkanit “Gem” Sakdisubha weighs buds on a scale at his The Dispensary by Taratera in Silom area. Photo: Chayanit Itthipongmaetee / Coconuts Bangkok

“It’s obvious that this issue has been politicized,” said Anutin Charnvirakul, who also heads the ruling coalition’s influential Bhumjaithai Party. 

More effusively, Soranut said the government isn’t prepared for what would come should it backtrack on legalization.

“The cat’s out of the bag, you can’t put it back,” he said. “If we reverse, they’re gonna have a real protest on their hands. It could be a class-action lawsuit against the government for doing this.”

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