“Ha” is Thai for “five,” so “555” means “hahaha.” That was the reaction when four boys in brown – what expats call the Royal Thai Police – were punished for putting a woman in a cell overnight for growing a single pot plant.

The boys in brown. Photo: Watajantara

The legal status of cannabis in Thailand

Thailand legalised cannabis for medical purposes in 2018 and was the first Southeast Asian nation to do so. The military-dominated parliament called this a “New Year’s gift” to the Thai people.

In 2021, Sontirat Sontrijirawonghas, the secretary general of the ruling Phalang Pracharat party and once the commerce minister, declared cannabis to be “Thailand’s future cash crop.” That same year, drinks and cosmetic companies dashed to release products containing CBD upon approval of its use in consumer goods. In Bangkok, you can now get CBD sushi at Koko Japanese Restaurant and vegan CBD brownies at Carrots: the Vegan Bistro.

June 9 2022 will see legalisation of cannabis plants so long as they contain no more than 0.2% THC, the cannabis ingredient that makes you high. This episode occurred one week before that.

What happened

The officers came from Sri Racha police station in Chon Buri province. They arrested a woman, 56-year-old Pornpimon Prakobpon, for growing one cannabis plant in her rented home in Sri Racha, and brought her to the police station.

The plant is a scrawny, immature seedling that’s in bad shape. When THC in cannabis plants is measured, the plants tend to be mature and flowering and hence have many trichomes, the fuzzy hairs where most THC is found. This plant, however, is small and young and will lack trichomes. So it’s sure to be less than 0.2% THC.

Prakobpon’s husband, 55-year-old Choo, told media that the plant was his. He intended to use it for food and medicine. It would certainly have been good for his high blood pressure, but for his diabetes, the situation is less clear. He added that police found his plant when they arrested a suspect near his house but didn’t mention any potential problems. He thought everything would be fine because relaxation of the law concerning cannabis plants was imminent, but his wife got busted, nevertheless.

Choo remarked that police asked for between THC 15,000 and THC 30,000 (£348 and £697) bail, but he was too poor, so his wife was detained overnight. He considered himself lucky that the court appreciated his situation, and approved the release of his wife sans bail the next day.

The tale went viral on Thai social media because many people thought it made no sense for the boys in brown to arrest someone when growing cannabis with less than 0.2% THC was about to be legalised.

Consequences

Auttasit Kitjaharn, the police commander in Chon Buri, set up a commission to investigate the matter. In the meantime, the four boys in brown took up desk jobs – “inactive posts” – at the Office of the Provincial Police Region 2.

Chaiyapoj Suwannarak, spokesperson for Provincial Police Region 2, remarked that the Royal Thai Police stressed that officers had to use judgement in cases related to cannabis and that this case could negatively impact the image of the boys in brown.

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