High Stakes: Thai Party Plants Seeds for Pot Revolution

Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul has gone all in on legalization of cannabis. He leads the largest party to call for full legalization.
Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul has gone all in on legalization of cannabis. He leads the largest party to call for full legalization.

BANGKOK — The party which has covered Bangkok with images of cannabis leaves says not only is full legalization a core campaign policy – it won’t join a ruling coalition that supports anything less.

Though not alone in advocating for full legalization, Bhumjaithai, which won 34 seats in the 2011 general election, is the most viable one to go all in on Thailand’s decriminalization push, literally framing the issue as a win for the people in campaign posters everywhere.

“Marijuana is not a drug that should be illegal,” party leader Anutin Charnvirakul said Wednesday night at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, adding that, unlike alcohol and cigarettes, marijuana has great health benefits such as treating cancer, Alzheimer’s and insomnia.

“This policy will surely improve a lot of people’s well-being,” Anutin said, cautioning it will take time to put the policy into action – and change attitudes.

The party has proposed allowing every household to grow six plants that could only be sold to state agencies. Anutin estimated it could generate 420,000 baht per family.

Cannabis is a campaign issue going into the March 24 election. These widely distributed Bhumjaithai Party posters promote it as a boon to Thai farmers. Photo: Bhumjaithai Party
Cannabis is a campaign issue going into the March 24 election. These widely distributed Bhumjaithai Party posters promote it as a boon to Thai farmers. Photo: Bhumjaithai Party

On Thursday, party policy advisor Julpas “Tom” Kruesopon said that cannabis has the potential to become a more lucrative cash crop for Thai farmers if its growth and sale is legalized. Julpas said the combined worth of the five largest cash crops – rice, tapioca, sugarcane and rubber – would be worth less than that of cannabis. He cited California as an example.

“If you look at the state of California, they collected 4 billion US dollars in taxes last year from cannabis sales,” he said.

The party is supporting not only the medical use of marijuana, but recreational as well. Asked if Bangkok could turn into Amsterdam with many “coffee shops” selling cannabis, Julpas said “Bangkokians would then be very happy.”

Julpas said the policy is one of the tangible policies set forth by the party alongside legalizing Airbnb and Grab services.

“We want to introduce policies that are helpful to people instead of policies that cause more infighting,” Julapas said.

The advisor, who is not a party member, said no major parties have come out against Bhumjaithai’s proposal.

That doesn’t mean everyone’s on board, however. The Democrat Party’s deputy leader said the party would only support the cultivation and use of cannabis for medical use, not recreational.

“The party doesn’t support smoking marijuana freely,” Nipit Intarasombat said. “Marijuana is the beginning of drug addiction. It’s okay to use it for medical purposes but there must be limits to its use.”

According to Julpas, legalizing marijuana doesn’t mean anyone can just smoke it for fun. Like alcohol, he said, its sale and use will be restricted to those of legal age.

The spokesman of a progressive fringe party said Thursday it supports a similar push to fully legalize marijuana.

Pakorn Areekul of the Commoner Party said it would want to ensure big agribusiness could not monopolize production. It will also consider limits on how much farmland can be used to grow it.

“It’s a measure to protect monopolization,” Pakorn said, adding that anyone should be free to grow marijuana in their backyards, like a small vegetable garden.

Some other parties have taken internal, pro-cannabis positions but don’t see it as a winning issue with voters. The party that has struck some of the most aggressively progressive positions, Future Forward, has not stated a position.

Additional reporting Chayanit Itthipongmaetee