Experts are warning that Thailand risks a serious outbreak of a highly contagious disease that could lead to widespread ignorance and mass hysteria. High-ranking officials and politicians appear to be among the most highly vulnerable groups.
According to psychologists, the current epidemic of paranoia sativa seems to have been triggered by the delisting of cannabis from the regulations on controlled substances. Until new regulations are put in place, this has effectively turned cannabis production and consumption into a rule-free zone and made it impossible for the authorities to police the situation, giving rise to a wide variety of hallucinations.
‘When Thai government officials have no rules to enforce, they can be overwhelmed by feelings of impotence and low self-esteem,’ according to Dr Malee ‘Jane’ Kanchanasoop of the Wellness Enhancement through Ethnobotanical Drugs project, who has been tracking the situation.
‘They may then start issuing statements about imaginary problems in an attempt to control public behaviour,’ she continued. ‘If they can’t establish their supposed superiority over the rest of the population by drafting and enforcing petty rules and regulations, they tend to turn to scare stories and fake news as an informal substitute.’
Observers note that this behavioural tactic has been seen many times in the past in connection with the supposed dangers of, for example, socialism, human rights and consuming alcohol and durian at the same time. But the current problem seems to cause more severe symptoms.
There have been reports, for example, that the new governor of Bangkok, previously with a reputation for honesty and technical savvy, claimed that a Bangkokian had died from a ‘cannabis overdose’ as a result of the lack of regulations. This report came as something of a shock to the US Centres for Disease Control, which has recorded no similar fatality despite decades of pot consumption in the US measured in the millions of tons per year.
The police have promised that cannabis sellers and users now need have no fear of arrest or prosecution ‘unless someone complains of public nuisance caused by second-hand smoke, traffic congestion around popular retail sites or an excessive number of stupid smiles in the neighbourhood,’ according to one high-ranking officer.
Long-term residents, however, point out that in the past many have been threatened with drug arrests without any drugs being involved. It has, for example, been quite common for tourists getting off the Pattaya bus at Ekkamai to be arrested for cannabis possession without any spliffs being found in their bags. Why should the absence of laws on cannabis make things any different? they ask.
Lower-ranking police are reportedly unhappy with the new situation. One police lance-corporal who requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media and who should properly have arrested himself for opening his big mouth, expressed their frustration.
‘Apart from losing the regular income from kick-backs from busting people for pot,’ he said, ‘we used to be able to go round the back of the station every now and then and burn the stuff we’d seized. When the wind was in the right direction, that is. We enjoyed that.’
In a nation which is seemingly complacent about one of the worst road fatality rates in the world, much of it blamed on drunk driving, a number of officials have been touting anti-cannabis propaganda, especially in schools. Some educational administrators however question the efficacy of such campaigns, given that at any one time a substantial proportion of the school population are off their face with ya ba, alcohol or both.
Untreated cases of paranoia sativa risk developing into a more serious form of psycho-political schizophrenia. ‘The government, politicians, the media and even those who have pushed for liberalization of the cannabis laws insist that this new-found freedom must be restricted to medicinal and economic uses,’ says one expert. ‘They endlessly parrot the mantra that marijuana must never be used for recreational purposes.’
Apart from the difficulty in proving that beatifically smiling, cookie-chomping Somchai did not have a touch of nausea to justify getting stoned, this attitude flies in the face of basic government policy.
‘Do you remember when the military took power after the coup?’ asks one political analyst. ‘One of their slogans, much derided at the time, was “Bring happiness back to the people.”
‘So now they’ve changed the law so that the people have unrestricted access to one means of getting happiness back, and they promptly turn around and say no one must use it.’ The psycho-political literature unfortunately gives no clear indication of how long a government can survive such dangerous levels of cognitive dissonance.