Thailand’s cannabis U-turn: Is it just a safety concern or political rivalry?

18 months after decriminalising cannabis, Thailand is on its way to banning the plant again.

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File photo of marijuana - Credit: Agilent

Apart from medical use, Thailand’s new government is set to ban cannabis used for recreational purposes. The ruling party, Pheu Thai Party explains that it is wrong to advocate for marijuana to be used freely.

The arguments

The Prime Minister of Thailand, Srettha Thavisin after his assumption to office in 2023, promised to ensure the laws on cannabis and cannabis-related products are amended under his rule.

After 5 months in office, a draft bill by Thai’s health ministry was sent to the parliament on Tuesday despite the cold shoulders the previous bill drafted in November 2023 received.

The new government argues that the legalisation of cannabis in the country outrightly means drug abuse and it is “a big problem for Thailand.”

Thailand’s health minister, Cholnan Srikaew, according to Reuters shared that the law was drafted “to prohibit the wrong usage of cannabis.”

However, Anutin Charnvirakul, Thailand’s former health minister who was very vocal about the decriminalisation of marijuana previously clarified the conditions for the legalisation process to CNN. He explained that the call for legalisation was solely for health purposes and not to encourage citizens to abuse or smoke publicly.

“Thailand will promote cannabis policies for medical purposes. There has never once been a moment that we would think about advocating people to use cannabis in terms of recreation – or use it in a way that could irritate others. We [have always] emphasised using cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical purposes and for health,” Anutin said.

Additionally, investors and entrepreneurs in Thailand’s booming cannabis industry have expressed disappointment in the new government’s move to ‘crumble’ their businesses. They stated categorically that the new bill will not be passed.

“[It was] not unexpected. But no matter what happens with the incoming cannabis regulations, it is now too late for cannabis to go back to being classified as narcotics,” says Kitty Chopaka, a Bangkok-based cannabis entrepreneur.

The facts

Thailand was the first Asian country to decimalise cannabis or marijuana use in June 2022. Before the legalisation in 2022, the country allowed the growth of cannabis for health purposes in 2018.

But before all these reforms, an individual found with small amounts of marijuana could face a 1-year jail term or pay 10,000 bhat (€ 261) in fines. An individual caught in possession of 10kg of marijuana was also punishable by 5 years in prison or no more than a 50,000 baht (€ 1,307) fine.

Cannabis legalisation in Thailand saw a skyrocketing industry from farming to small businesses and workers at shops. Ultimately, the excitement among investors and beneficiaries saw the celebration of weed festivals in cities like Chiang Mai and the capital Bangkok.

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