Thailand heads into polls with burning cannabis issue in limbo

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Thailand is heading into election season with its key cannabis legislation in limbo, guaranteeing that last year’s chaotic decriminalization of the plant will be a campaign issue amid a boom in the sale and consumption of marijuana products.

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Thailand’s parliament on Thursday concluded its final session on the cannabis draft bill before the election, expected on May 7, but failed to endorse it, leaving the country without an umbrella law to regulate the use of the substance.

Thailand became the first Southeast Asian country to decriminalize cannabis last year, but within a week of the move issued a raft of rushed piecemeal regulations to curb its potential unchecked use, including by children.

Thousands of cannabis shops and businesses have since popped up in Bangkok and in tourist hotspots, many within weeks of its decriminalization.

The passage of the cannabis bill, which passed its first reading in parliament last June, has become deeply politicized in recent months, reflecting longstanding anti-drug sentiment in the country, according to analysts.

The Bhumjaithai Party, which successfully pushed for legalization and campaigned on the issue in the 2019 elections, has come under fire from the opposition and some of its coalition partners in government.

The opposition Pheu Thai Party, whose leader is a frontrunner to become the next prime minister, said the recreational use of cannabis posed a threat to society, especially young people.

“The party only supports the use of cannabis for medical purposes,” spokesperson Trichada Sritada said.

Satit Wongnongtoey, a lawmaker from the Democrat Party, a Bhumjaithai coalition partner, said the decriminalization of cannabis without proper legislation was a mistake and vowed to address it after the election. His party only supported its medical use, he said.

Bhumjaithai is, however, planning to submit the same draft bill to restart the process in the next parliament after the upcoming elections, senior party member Supachai Jaisamut said.

“If there is a cannabis law, we can regulate it 100 percent,” he said. “But with what we have, we can already regulate it 70 percent.”

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