Tricky issues always left in too-hard basket

opinion January 05, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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Thailand has yet to reach a stage of maturity where difficult topics like sales of marijuana can even be debated

It is now legal to buy marijuana in the USA – at least in two states for now – for recreational purposes. 
While the state of Washington will open for “pot” business later this summer, some 136 stores in Colorado opened their doors to customers, many of whom had waited in freezing cold to be part of the US’ latest experiment with legalised marijuana. 
The decision to legalise marijuana in these two states reflects the political values of local legislators and their constituencies. 
Marijuana for medicinal purposes have been around in the US for some years now, although we all know how relaxed things can get in defining “medicinal purposes”. 
The issue of legalising marijuana in the US also reflects the decentralisation of the political system in the US. Imagine if our mayors or Tambon Administrative Organisations (TAO) had the kind of legislative power to permit or ban alcohol consumption, smoke marijuana, or even controlled the police force.
Is Thailand prepared for that kind of decentralisation and to grant our local authorities that kind of power? This sounds good in principle. But given the kind and quality of the people who go into local Thai politics, as well as national, for that matter, we might want to think twice before handing this hot potato to our city council members or TAOs.
In Thailand, just a few months ago a similar issue was removing kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) from the prohibited narcotics list. The Justice Ministry is consulting the Public Health Ministry on whether kratom could be removed from the illicit drugs list, on the grounds that it could be used for medicinal purposes, particularly for recovering methamphetamine addicts. The idea of permitting it for purely recreational purposes doesn’t appear to be part of the consideration even though many people use it for that purpose. 
Meanwhile, 20 US states and the capital Washington DC permit some form of medical marijuana sales. Others, mainly the southern states, took a more conservative stance and voted against it.
In Amsterdam, “coffee shops” sell more than just cappuccino. In fact, smoking pot is a major part of the tourism there. Moreover, in some counties in the state of Nevada, prostitution and gambling are legal. 
But that’s the thing about open society. There is a social mechanism in which controversial issues can be discussed in an open and frank manner but of course in line with their social-political values of their respective community. 
But in Thailand, such debate may be a thing for the distant future. There are too many issues we have yet to get to that level of frankness. For example, per capita, Thai people consume beer and alcohol just as much as any other country. But there was fierce resistance to the Thai Beverage Plc’s effort for an initial public offering (IPO) on the Stock Exchange.
Prostitution in Thailand is a also case in point and illegal gambling dens are also another good example of the contradiction between legality and what is socially permissible. Of course, it is permissible as long as we don’t debate it publicly. 
Needless to say, the outcome from debating these issues could be better regulation and labour protection for people working in these industries. But for our society, this is just too much work. We rather not talk about it and thus, turn a blind eye to it all while hiding behind morality.