Under the Narcotic Act of 1979, which was amended in February of 2019, cannabis is still a Category IV controlled narcotic in Thailand. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First and foremost, money
If legalized, the growth, sale and distribution of cannabis are all potential points of taxation and thus, regulation.
However, according to legal experts, decriminalization also means a loss of income stemming from cannabis infractions.
There is a lot of money involved in arresting, citing, litigating and incarcerating people for drug crimes, many of which are cannabis-related. If cannabis is decriminalized, the legal and “justice” systems will no longer be able to profit from minor and most-often harmless cannabis crimes.
Second, the Single Convention
Arguably the most compelling reason that Thailand cannot decriminalize cannabis is the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, of which Thailand is one of the signatories.
The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, aka the Single Convention, is an international treaty signed by 186 “state parties”- furthermore referred to as Member States – that prohibits production and supply of specific (nominally narcotic) drugs and of drugs with similar effects, except under license for specific purposes, such as medical treatment and research.
According to the UN:
This Convention aims to combat drug abuse by coordinated international action. There are two forms of intervention and control that work together. First, it seeks to limit the possession, use, trade in, distribution, import, export, manufacture and production of drugs exclusively to medical and scientific purposes. Second, it combats drug trafficking through international cooperation to deter and discourage drug traffickers.
The Member States that are participating in this international treaty are to use it as a legal framework for how to schedule and control drugs, including cannabis.
Although the treaty has provisions designed for licensing related to medical treatment and research, it is still a prohibitionist document that has limited the ability of people living in Member States to effectively lobby for and achieve cannabis reform in their country of residence.
The Single Convention remains the basis of international laws on cannabis to this day and its key intention was to ‘limit exclusively to medical and scientific purposes the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution of, trade in, use and possession of drugs’.
Although the Single Convention repeatedly affirms the importance of medical use of controlled substances, the take-away is that it’s still a regulatory document aimed at categorically prohibiting drug use with just one document. And with that, decriminalization of cannabis effectively becomes impossible for any Member State involved in this treaty.
Changing the Convention
Decriminalizing cannabis entirely in Thailand would require either amending the Single Convention or leaving the treaty as a whole, both of which would require work and only one of which would make diplomatic sense: amendment.
There are procedures in place for amending the treaty and the problem is that, as with most legislative bodies and processes, it takes time and (majority) numbers. It has only been amended once, in 1972. The changes with this amendment highlighted the need for treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts,instructing parties to take “all practicable measures for the prevention of abuse of psychotropic substances and for the early identification, treatment, education, after-care, rehabilitation and social reintegration of the persons involved”.
However, even with all of the effort being made to legalize cannabis for both medicinal and recreational use worldwide, the amended treaty is still antiquated and limiting in scope with regards to a pathway towards decriminalization. This is exactly why in some parts of the world, like in the USA, cannabis is still federally illegal, but has been legalized for recreational and medicinal use on a state-by-state basis. Needless to say, it’s caused a lot of confusion.
The Single Convention is a broken framework (treaty) that needs to be changed before we will ever stop seeing people go to jail for dimebags.
If you’d like to read the full text of the Single Convention, you can do so here.