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Cannabis in Thailand

Unrolling the Joint: Thailand’s Unexpected U-Turn on Cannabis

BREAKING NEWS – Thailand has made a major U-Turn on its progressive cannabis legislation – here’s what you need to know about these changes, the reasons behind them and what this means for the future of weed in the country.
Hayley Smith
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Wait but why?

Thailand’s new conservative coalition government, headed by the Pheu Thai party, is set to pass legislation to ban recreational use of cannabis, only 18 months after the country became the first Asian country to open the recreational market. 

The legislative changes ban any cannabis product with more than 0.2% THC and will put a stop on recreational cannabis use entirely, focusing purely on cannabis’s medical uses moving forward.

Why are Thailand’s cannabis laws changing?

Following his election in May last year, Prime minister, Srettha Thavisin,  pledged to “rectify” the cannabis laws put in place by the more liberal government which preceded him.

This crackdown is a major contrast to the laws implemented by the last Minister of public health who decriminalized cannabis for cultivation and trade, and integrated the plant into the Thai traditional and alternative Medicine Department.

In many interviews, Thavisin has expressed that he wants to ban recreational use due to its health risks, claiming Thailand has a big problem with drug abuse.

Is Cannabis legal in Thailand

The government’s next steps

The bill still requires cabinet approval and to pass through the house of representatives before steps can be taken to bring it into action. A draft bill in November last year was unsuccessful in making it through parliament which keeps a ray of hope for cannabis supporters and those in the business. However, as stopping marijuana use was a key part of the party’s election campaign and the prime minister pledged to stop recreational use, it is likely that the Pheu Thai Party will continue to push for the crackdown.

What benefits did the legalization of marijuana bring to the country?

In the course of one year, Thailand’s pot industry was worth nearly 800 million in USD and this was set to increase to billions in the coming years.  

Tourism has boomed since the legalization of marijuana in June 2022. Dispensaries, weed cafes and even hemp spas sprouted up all across Thailand, creating thousands of jobs. Cannabis-infused menus are in abundance with many businesses profiting from them. Chiang Mai and Bangkok even host their own weed festivals.  

Pro-legislation activists claim that the legalization had many benefits to the country including increased income and employment for farmers, small business’ and cannabis-retail workers, decrease in prison population and overall demand on the criminal justice system and less social stigma around addiction. 

The impact this will have on Thailand’s economy is unclear at this moment in time as there is still a lot to be understood about the changes.

From boom to ban: A tumultuous turn for Thailand’s cannabis industry

The abrupt turnaround from legalization to potential prohibition has sent shockwaves through various sectors of society and economy. How has the industry reacted, what legal challenges are arising, and what could be the broader economic and social consequences? 

Industry’s response 

Cannabis entrepreneurs have naturally expressed their frustration over the proposed changes but say it is not unexpected. At this time, it is also unclear what the rules will be for cannabis shops and growing at home.

Legal challenges and lobbying

Lobbying by the cannabis industry means uncertainty over whether the new law will be passed successfully. 

A cannabis advocacy group in Thailand called ‘The Future Cannabis Network’ has expressed disappointment at the proposed bill and expressed the importance of collecting public opinion on the matter. The government is reportedly open to public opinion on the draft bill prohibiting the recreational use of weed and reclassifying it as a controlled substance in the country.

Economic implications

In the course of one year, Thailand’s pot industry was worth nearly 800 million in USD and this was set to increase to billions in the coming years. The impact this will have on Thailand’s economy is unclear at this moment in time as there is still a lot to be understood about the changes.

Public opinion and dialogue 

Concerns are rife over the impact of the changes on individuals and families who have set up small businesses or work within the industry. Entrepreneurs and alike have invested significant amounts of money into their businesses or even signed rental contracts. The consequence of this is that if these new laws come into effect, they could be left without their main source of income and/or in debt. 

Furthermore, seeing as one of the key reasons for legalization in the first place was to boost Thailand’s rural economy, the changes could have a significant impact on farmers and rural communities. More clarity is needed over any potential support or compensation for those in this position.

Social and legal impact

Prior to legalization 18 months ago, Thailand had some of the toughest drug laws in the world – with possession of cannabis carrying a sentence up to 15 years. 

Over 3000 inmates held on marijuana-related charges were released on the day of legalization – a huge benefit for a country with immense prison overcrowding. The new bill implements hefty fines (≈$1700) or prison sentences of up to one year (or both) for possession or recreational use. Farmers without a license could also face up to 3 years imprisonment as well as a large fine.

This is a step back to more harsh policies around cannabis possession that are typical of Asian countries. Singapore still carries the death penalty for drug trafficking and in Hong Kong CBD oils remain outlawed. 

Medical cannabis focus

Medical marijuana has been legal in Thailand since 2018 and it looks like the clocks will be turned back as the new legislation states that cannabis will be used solely for medical and health purposes.

All marketing and advertising around cannabis will be banned moving forward, carrying fines of up to 100,000 Thai Baht (≈$2825).

The future of Thailand’s cannabis industry is unknown

There are many questions left unanswered in this policy turnaround including; how strictly these laws will be enforced for cannabis stores, whether a medical marijuana certificate will be required to make purchases and if so, what the criteria for obtaining a certificate will be. It is also uncertain what impact the new legislation will have on Thailand’s weed-tourism industry and the economy in general. 

For now, Thailand waits on more information and to see whether the bill will pass through the government successfully. In the meantime, tourists and locals are still able to kick-back in a weed cafe with a spliff in hand and can purchase cannabis related products freely. We will keep you updated on the progress of this new legislation and what this means for Thailand, and its people. 

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