High time to ease up on marijuana 

opinion May 23, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

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Thailand lags well behind the developed world in decriminalising a minor narcotic, but at least its medical use is to be explored

The Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) has hinted at the possibility of allowing people to grow marijuana for medical use. ONCB secretary-general Sirinya Sitdhichai said in a recent interview that permission could be granted in three years’ time. He acknowledged that marijuana could be useful in medical research.

It’s not clear why it will take so long, but Sirinya suggested the necessary legislative changes would be complicated. Nevertheless, the Cabinet has given its approval to reconsidering the notion of medical marijuana.  The ONCB chief stressed that the government would not allow marijuana to be used for “entertainment purposes”, though it’s understood he was referring to casual recreational use.

Rangsit and Mahidol universities are already taking the lead, presenting proposals and seeking permission to grow marijuana for research into cancer therapies and pain relief.

Several countries have legalised marijuana for medical use in the belief it helps people cope with neurological conditions, terminal cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It is not clear why Thailand has taken so long to follow suit.

Much of the modern world has made great progress in this initiative. Private investment in the business has been welcomed and the industry has boosted national, regional and municipal economies around the world. Libraries are being built with taxes generated from the marijuana trade and some American cities are paying their police officers’ salaries from the same income source. 

In Thailand, people have been consuming “ganja” for centuries for its medicinal and psychological benefits – including its ability to ease stress. It has always been an inexpensive and readily available narcotic. This will make it difficult for Sirinya, as the country’s counter-narcotics chief heading an agency that’s long classified marijuana as illegal and dangerous, to engineer its transition to being officially acceptable and beneficial. 

 The government has been telling us marijuana is hazardous and evil for so long that it will need the help of an independent committee of experts to explain why it might be just the opposite.

It will have to promote a greater understanding of marijuana among the more conservative citizenry to overcome the stigma attached to it over the decades. 

There is no need to gallop to the moral high ground regarding the coming changes. The active ingredient in cannabis is an intoxicant and gets users “high”, but marijuana is no more harmful than tobacco or alcohol, and according to most available evidence, it is far less harmful.

Given the number of road accidents and lawlessness associated with alcohol, there would be a strong case for banning alcohol if we applied the same reasoning as used with marijuana. It’s common enough to see drunks brawling, but extremely rare for cannabis to be a factor in fights. 

And, more anecdotally, it is common to see drunks morose in mood and shunning food, and common to see marijuana users giggling with joy and seeking out snacks to sate their “munchies”. 

Given the political tensions of our times, maybe allowing citizens to indulge in the occasional “hit” of ganja would be a sound idea.