NONTHABURI, Thailand (AP) — Dozens of pro-cannabis advocates gathered Thursday at the health ministry on the outskirts of the Thai capital, Bangkok, to oppose the government’s plan to relist the plant as a narcotic, two years after it was decriminalized.

The rally came after Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin last week said he would like the plant to be relisted as a narcotic again by the end of this year. Thailand became the first country in Asia to decriminalize it in 2022 for medical purposes, but in practice the market appears virtually unregulated, leading to public backlash and concerns over misuse and crime.

About 30 people came to the health ministry in Nonthaburi, just north of the Thai capital Bangkok, to petition minister Somsak Thepsuthin.

The group’s representative, Prasitchai Nunuan, said they all agreed that cannabis should be properly regulated, but that doesn’t require the rescheduling of the plant as a narcotic, noting possible economic impacts on a budding industry.

“Whenever it is relisted as a narcotic, cannabis will be put in jail again,” Prasitchai said as health minister Somsak stood listening to the group’s demands.

Decriminalization of cannabis in 2022 was spearheaded by the Bhumjaithai Party, whose stronghold is in the impoverished northeast where it promised farmers cannabis would be a new cash crop.

Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul became health minister of the previous government, pushing through an amendment to the Narcotics Law, dropping cannabis from the list of controlled substances.

Somsak, who was appointed as health minister in last month’s cabinet reshuffle, responded that he would take the demands into consideration. The minister said that his standpoint has always been that cannabis should be used for medical purposes only, not recreational.

Chokwan “Kitty” Chopaka, a cannabis shop owner and activist, said that the government’s u-turn on the policy appears to be more political than scientific.

“I think the word stigma hasn’t actually been erased out of cannabis, even with the legalization,” she said.

Brought to you by