Fresh from their success in eviscerating the law on cannabis, a coalition of anti-enjoyment organizations has engaged in a new battle and set its sights on even bigger target.
The Stop Cannabis Addiction Movement (SCAM) aggressively lobbied parliamentarians to pass amendments to the recent cannabis law to severely restrict the production, sale and consumption of marijuana.
The cannabis law was presented to parliament after the removal of cannabis from the list of illegal drugs in June, following a policy promise of the Bhumjaithai Party and its leader, Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.
This ‘decriminalization’ led to a confused situation. Dozens of ‘dispensaries’ popped up all over the country openly selling a variety of strains, while leaders in the medical profession, law enforcement and the bureaucracy campaigned for tighter restrictions. Children, pregnant and lactating women and drivers were mentioned as groups requiring protection from the negative effects of the drug.
With widespread public confusion over the possible consequences of full liberalization of pot, a number of reports about the horrors of legalization circulated in both the mainstream and social media, some of which could be traced back to SCAM artists. These included claims of widespread deaths from overdoses, intolerable strain on the health services, male impotence, traffic chaos, and the deliberate contamination of school meals. Few of these reports contained information that could be fact-checked.
Public Health Minister Anutin stressed the difference between medicinal use, which had long been advocated by the Thai herbalist community, and recreational use, which he said was not his aim at all. He also continued to tout marijuana as an important and valuable cash crop for farmers, although it was not clear how big the market would be if the product could only be used for medicinal purposes.
In the end, SCAM managed to get almost all its proposed amendments passed. The production of marijuana will require a licence approved by local offices of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, the Ministry of Public Health, the Royal Thai Police, the Department of Provincial Administration, the Department of Local Administration and Internal Security Operations Command. The government promised a streamlined online licencing procedure.
Sales will be completely banned for anyone under 21, pregnant and lactating women, those with a criminal record, anyone whose job involves driving or operating heavy machinery, wheelchair users and migrant workers.
Medicinal sales will permitted to those who can present a medical prescription signed by 2 doctors, one of whom must be a qualified psychiatrist. Dispensaries must be staffed at all times by a qualified pharmacist who must wear a white coat and there will be a waiting period of 7 days between presentation of a prescription and delivery.
Dispensaries are not allowed to operate within 500 metres of any educational institution, hospital or clinic, foreign embassy or consulate, police station, royal premises or bus stop. All medicinal marijuana must be transported in sealed containers (airtight to prevent leakage of fumes) and, if in quantities above 3 grams, with an armed escort.
Consumption of medicinal marijuana must take place in special quarantined facilities supervised by medical and law enforcement professionals. Anyone found smiling after consumption will be struck off the register of users.
SCAM have coyly refrained from calling this the ‘recriminalization’ of marijuana, but there is no doubt that this victory over private choice and common sense has fuelled their new campaign, which aims at restricting alcohol to medicinal consumption only.
A leading SCAMmer explained that when they researched the evils of cannabis, they were struck by the parallels with alcohol. ‘Some extremists even say that drink driving causes more problems than driving under the influence of pot,’ they said.
The movement is therefore behind moves to pass a law restricting the production, sale and consumption of alcohol along the same lines as now apply to cannabis. Reformers acknowledge that this time they are taking on powerful corporate interests as well as a deep-seated tradition of drinking in a Buddhist country rather than an incoherent party leader.
But, working under a new name (they are still a SCAM but are now the Spoilsport Coalition Advocating Misery) they are confident that by building a context of puritanism, authoritarianism and out-and-out fantasy, they will succeed. So much so that they are already eying their next target.
‘Once Thai people have recognized that pot-smoking and drinking are illicit pleasures against which they must be protected,’ said a movement leader, ‘we will introduce the concept of ‘procreational’ sex, which will be allowed under tightly controlled circumstances, as opposed to ‘recreational sex’ in all forms, which will be strictly banned.
‘I have done research on the internet,’ the campaigner said, ‘and it makes you blind. And the last thing we want is for Thailand to become a country of the blind.’