Prayuth cites ‘health and safety’ to attack popular homebrewing bill

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha stated in no unclear terms his opposition to a popular progressive bill to decriminalize alcohol production.

Before Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told party representatives and his own deputies in a closed-door meeting that he opposed the Sura Kaona (Booze Forward Act) because he was worried about public “health and safety,” saying people might start homebrewing with no way for the authorities to ensure quality.

He said the large producers – who bill supporters say the current laws are designed to shield from competition – can be held accountable. His comments were shared by those in the meeting.

On top of that, he expressed concern that a new market for alcohol would be similar to the weed boom that followed the decriminalization of cannabis, and that the authorities might not be able to manage an “open-market” of alcohol.

His refusal to commit his cabinet to the bill, which passed its first reading with wide support earlier this year, met immediate backlash from those looking to decriminalize brewing. 

“[The government] refuses to amend a law that, if implemented, would benefit the people,” wrote Thanakorn “Benz” Tuamsa-ngiam, founder of the Prachachon Beer (Beer People) community.

The opposition politician who sponsored the bill, Taopiphop Limjittrakorn, said he wasn’t surprised by Prayuth’s reaction. 

“I am not too surprised. It was expected, actually,” Taopiphop said. “In the past eight years, Prayuth, [Deputy PM] Prawit, and [Interior Minister] Anupong have shown that they can use their power, both directly and indirectly, to benefit the big companies anytime.”

Taopiphop Limjittrakorn in July sits at the Saha Prachachuen brew pub in Bangkok’s Prachachuen area. Photo: Saha Prachachuen

The bill is a challenge to the monopolies enjoyed by the two largest corporate brewers. It would legalize small batch brewing and allow homebrewing. Currently, brewing legally is limited to certain facilities, such as brewpubs, and must meet stringent criteria and limitations, such as holding large capital reserves and production capacity.

In his comments, Prayuth continued in full patronizing mode, telling lawmakers that, as the bill moves forward, they should better look after the people, as some laws, if made too freely, could become problematic.

Deputy government spokesperson Tipanan Sirichana today said the prime minister never intended to interfere with the parliament’s authority. “He only wants what’s best for the people,” Tipanan said.

Taopiphop, the beer activist-turned-MP of the Move Forward Party, however, said he believed his bill would prevail.

“I’m confident that there’s no reason to vote against the Booze Forward Act, however,” Taopiphop said. “It benefits the people who will have the opportunity to go into business just like the big corporations.”

Back in June, lawmakers voted 178 to 137 to support the bill in its first reading, bringing it one step — out of approximately 10 – closer to reality. The bill is set to go before the cabinet for its second and third readings, all set for next week on Nov. 2. Usually, a bill goes through a single reading at a time, suggesting a desire to fast-track the legislation by combining them into a single day.

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