In a long overdue move, the Thai government this past week decided to relax the narcotics law and allow hemp to be grown as a cash crop in six provinces in northern Thailand.
The decision to allow hemp in 15 districts of six designated provinces – Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Nan, Tak, Phetchabun and Mae Hong Son – is right but hardly enough. Hemp, classified as a type 5 narcotic, will remain under control in the rest of the country.
The decision is based on a proposal by Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) that visualises “industrial hemp” and promotes the use of its fibre. Only state agencies can apply for registration for hemp farms, which will be highly regulated and closely supervised by the anti-drug body and other agencies.
According to the ONCB, hemp farming will be allowed for five purposes: household use, commercial industry, research, breeding for agriculture and breeding for seeds for some parts of the hemp tree, as stipulated by the law.
For many, the latest move on hemp is far too passive, if not a little too late. Other countries have enjoyed the use of hemp and dominated the market for a long time.
The government has realised a need to revamp the narcotics law, but somehow moves sluggishly in translating it into action. According to researchers, another type 5 narcotic that is worth considering for a change is marijuana, or ganja. This change should be made because marijuana is known for its medicinal values.
Fears over the impact of marijuana as imposed by the West through the United Nations are exaggerated. The ban has given a bad name to the plant, which grows well in Thailand’s hot climate.
The fact is that marijuana has been used as a herb by countries in Southeast Asia for hundreds of years. Dried marijuana leaves are believed to have an element that boosts appetite.
Marijuana used to be a food ingredient in countries such as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia before they were forced by the UN to criminalise it.
Dr Tawatchai Kamoltham, an advocate of Thai traditional and alternative medicine, rightly says that the criminalisation of marijuana is “an opportunity loss” for Thailand.
In a television interview, he said the medicinal values of marijuana enormously outweigh its bad elements, which include the possibility of addiction due to psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
The doctor noted that studies show marijuana is potential medicine for some serious, non-curable diseases such as diabetes and cancer in accordance with alternative medicine.
Some studies in the West indicate marijuana can kill malignant tumours, while some show it can deal the chronic pain endured by cancer patients.
“Whereas doctors in modern medicine give up, marijuana provides answers and hope,” Dr Tawatchai said.
According to the doctor, marijuana was an active ingredient in several traditional medicine recipes long before the country adopted modern medicine.
He stressed that the recipes which form part of local wisdom can still be found at Wat Phra Chetupon, or Wat Bodhi, which is known among locals as an old-day Thai university. He noted that the term “cancer” was not available in traditional medicine, but traditional healers used marijuana for treating symptoms that were similar to what is known as cancer.
It could also be used to treat diarrhoea.
While Western doctors are more open to medicinal marijuana, with some US states moving to legalise the weed for medicinal use, in Thailand the drug has suffered a strong stigma. According to anti-narcotics laws, those who have marijuana in their possession are subject to one-year imprisonment and a maximum fine of 20,000 baht.
Research reports demonstrate that marijuana is less harmful than cigarettes or alcohol, with a much lower addiction rate. One researcher said some law enforcers agree with decriminalising the weed.
Of course, overnight approval of medicinal marijuana is not possible, but at least the state must be more open to serious research studies involving this type 5 narcotic substance. The authorities should not allow stigma and a sluggish bureaucratic system to block its move in medical development or redevelopment.
Dr Tawatchai has a point in saying that the use of medicinal morphine, which is a type 2 narcotic, can be regulated and controlled, and such an approach should be applied to marijuana if the weed is proved to help fight diseases.
The country has been late in recognising the advantages of hemp. It should learn the lesson by going ahead with the use of medicinal marijuana and waste no more time. Bangkok Post Editorial