Thailand: Pro Cannabis Party Makes Better Than Expected Parliamentary Gains
A pro-establishment Thai political party that championed the liberalisation of cannabis won more seats than predicted in the country’s elections on Sunday, 14 May 2023, boosting its ability to resist attempts by groups seeking to undo the landmark policy set barely a year ago.
Patpicha Tanakasempipat for Bloomberg News
Bloomberg News reports that the Bhumjaithai Party, headed by Anutin Charnvirakul, won 70 seats in the 500-member House of Representatives as it swept its home-turf of Buri Ram province and nearby constituencies, according to data from the Election Commission. That compares with as few as 12 seats projected by a Nation Group survey in early May and more than the 50 they won in the 2019 election.
The better-than-projected performance by Bhumjaithai should help Anutin drive a bargain and thwart any attempt to roll back the legalisation of cannabis even against the backdrop of pro-democracy parties dominating the Sunday vote.
Opposition parties Move Forward and Pheu Thai — which together won about 290 lower house seats — had earlier called to reclassify marijuana as a drug to curb recreational use. Bhumjaithai is set to win the third-most number of parliament seats in this election.
Anutin, a former business tycoon who played kingmaker in the 2019 vote to help Prayuth Chan-Ocha lead a military-backed government, cast ballot on Sunday in Buri Ram wearing a shirt printed with bright green marijuana leaves.
The politician, who headed the health ministry in Prayuth’s cabinet, has said he’ll only join a coalition that will back a cannabis bill that the party plans to resubmit in parliament. Legislators failed to pass the bill in an earlier sitting before the house was dissolved to pave way for the election.
An ongoing regulatory vacuum, which emerged a year ago after Thailand decriminalised cannabis before passing the bill to regulate wider uses of the plant, has led to a mushrooming of over 4,500 dispensaries all over the country.