Cannabis Legalisation – International Trends and Thailand’s Draft Law

Home » Cannabis Legalisation – International Trends and Thailand’s Draft Law

Thailand’s current “limbo” position on Cannabis legislation under international conventions is contentious. The path forward isn’t as simple as “ban it all.” Many countries are experimenting with laws around cannabis liberalisation, and Thailand can learn from their experiences.

Released in 2023, the annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) (Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2021 provides a critical review of global trends in cannabis drug policy. The INCB is an independent and quasi-judicial expert body monitoring the implementation of UN drug control conventions, which for cannabis are predominantly the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotics and the subsequent downgrading of cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II of the 1971 Convention.

The global trend towards the legalisation of cannabis, as outlined in the INCB report, reflects a significant shift in attitudes and policies around the world. The legalisation of adult-use cannabis in Uruguay, Canada, and several U.S. states, along with the ongoing clinical and social experiments in the Netherlands, Germany, Malta, Spain, Ukraine, and Switzerland, to name a few, exemplify a stepped approach to assessing the impact of less restrictive legal regulation.

The mention of draft legislation discussed in the U.S. Congress is significant. If the United States were to legalise cannabis at the federal level, it would mark a major departure from its historical stance. It could potentially challenge the international drug control regime. The potential ripple effects of such a decision on global cannabis drug policies, as well as on perceptions of cannabis use and its associated risks, are complex and require consideration.

The fact that most voters from both major U.S. political parties favor legalization, as indicated by opinion polls, underscores the evolving public sentiment on this issue. It also highlights the importance of aligning drug policies with the preferences and perspectives of the population.

As more countries consider or move towards cannabis legalization, the international community faces the challenge of working with a punitive and rigid drug control convention, which dates back to 1961, to accommodate these policy shifts. This may involve reevaluating international treaties and frameworks to reflect a more flexible and pragmatic approach to cannabis regulation while still addressing concerns related to public health, safety, and the potential for illicit trade.

The INCB’s report, by highlighting these global developments, underscores the need for dialogue and cooperation to strike a balance between countries’ sovereignty and collective efforts to address the challenges posed by evolving drug policies. The focus on cannabis legalization in the INCB’s report is an acknowledgment that a growing number of member states have adopted policies permitting the non-medical and non-scientific use of cannabis, and the current regime cannot accommodate this.

But it is not all good news on the cannabis front and speaks to issues echoed in Thailand as the Thai legislature strives for an acceptable compromise. The surge in cannabis use disorders, as indicated by the eight-fold increase in global admissions related to cannabinoid dependence and withdrawal between 2000 and 2018, is disturbing and reflects the need for effective education and intervention strategies to reduce the consequences of cannabis misuse.

Moreover, the quadrupling of admissions for cannabis-related psychotic disorders worldwide raises serious mental health concerns. The potency and composition of new illicit cannabis products, including synthetics, may be contributing to this elevated risk of psychiatric complications, highlighting, according to the INCB, the need to examine the mental health implications associated with cannabis use.

The report emphasized the rapidly expanding cannabis industry and business interests striving for the relaxation of controls, which is raising unease about the commercialization of cannabis. As we have seen in Thailand, the pursuit of commercial profits may inadvertently contribute to the normalization and trivialization of cannabis use. This normalization, in turn, leads to reduced perceptions of harm associated with cannabis consumption, potentially undermining public health efforts to educate individuals about the risks and benefits of cannabis use.

Additionally, the report mentions criminal organizations linked with large-scale illicit production and trafficking, which adds a layer of complexity to the issue. The involvement of criminal networks in the cannabis trade poses not only legal challenges but also public safety concerns.

In light of these concerns, INCB recommends an evidence-based approach to cannabis liberalization that balances the potential benefits of medical cannabis, recognizing both its potential therapeutic benefits and the associated risks.

A Cannabis Policy Dilemma and a Way Forward

The evolution of cannabis legalization often began in jurisdictions that initially introduced “medical cannabis” programs. Some of these programs, like Thailand, were poorly regulated, leading to dispensaries operating as de facto legal cannabis markets for non-medical use, thereby shaping public perceptions of cannabis as a “friendly” and “useful” plant.

Proponents of legalization share the assumption that the existing drug control system has failed and must be replaced, citing its inability to counter global and domestic drug problems effectively. However, advocates argue that strict prohibitions have not deterred drug use and have resulted in unintended consequences and collateral problems.

Thailand could follow the lead of other governments that have legalized recreational cannabis and emphasize the main objectives of preventing young people from accessing cannabis, protecting public health, and reducing illicit activities. Liberalization advocates contend that properly constructed and implemented legalization can enhance public health by establishing strict product safety and quality requirements, minimizing contaminants, and addressing harms associated with high potency.

Legalization is also seen as a means to facilitate prevention measures, encourage open discussions about cannabis-related problems, and promote access to support and treatment.

We have also seen a more extreme view that asserts an inherent human right to consume potentially harmful drugs, arguing against state interference in what they perceive as civil liberties. They draw parallels with the legality of tobacco and alcohol and, in some cases, cite cultural or religious traditions to justify non-medical cannabis use.

Proponents also argue that legalization would counteract the criminalization of drug use, reduce the stigma associated with drug use, particularly among young people, and prevent disproportionate impacts on vulnerable groups. They contend that legalization could address systemic issues within criminal justice systems, such as institutional discrimination, and lead to reprioritizing law enforcement resources.

However, there are potential shortcomings of these arguments, such as the need to address the root causes of systemic institutional discrimination beyond the removal of only one category of offense for cannabis.

Thailand’s legislators face a dilemma in any draft law and a need to balance outcomes. It is hardly surprising that the first ham-fisted attempt to “put the genie back in the bottle” failed to pass the cabinet.Let’s hope for a more balanced approach in Thailand’s next attempt at a Cannabis Act.

Disclaimer: Please note that the information we’re sharing in this article is for general knowledge and learning purposes only. We’re doing our best to keep it accurate and current, but there’s a chance some details might be outdated or not entirely on the mark. What you find here shouldn’t be treated as legal advice or the go-to for making major decisions, be it in business or law. Consulting a qualified legal professional is always recommended.

For personalized advice tailored to your situation as a cannabis business, please contact us at [email protected] or by using the form provided on our website.


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