Thailand to Ban Recreational Marijuana Use By Year’s End, Minister Says

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Thailand to Ban Recreational Marijuana Use By Year’s End, Minister Says

The move comes less than two years after the Thai government became the first Southeast Asian country to legalize the cultivation and consumption of marijuana.

Thailand to Ban Recreational Marijuana Use By Year’s End, Minister Says

A neon sign in the window of a cannabis shop in Bangkok, Thailand, February 12, 2023.

Credit: Depositphotos

Thailand’s government plans to ban the recreational use of marijuana by the end of this year, according to the country’s health minister, though it will continue to allow its use for medical purposes.

In an interview with Reuters published yesterday, Public Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew said that the government would submit a draft bill to the cabinet for approval next month. Once approved, it will then move to Parliament where it is expected to be passed before the end of 2024.

“Without the law to regulate cannabis it will be misused,” Cholnan told the news agency, referring to the recreational use of the drug, which has spiked since Thailand legalized the cultivation and use of the drug in mid-2022. “The misuse of cannabis has a negative impact on Thai children,” he added. “In the long run it could lead to other drugs.”

Thailand is the first nation in Southeast Asia to take the step of legalizing cannabis, but its handling of the issue is a case study of poor planning and unintended consequences.

The main proponent of legalization, Anutin Charnvirakul, who served as public health minister under Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, never intended for the drug to be widely used and sold. He said his intention was to promote the plant’s medicinal use, which was legalized in 2018, and generate a commercial industry around serving this demand.

“We [have always] emphasized using cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical purposes and for health,” Anutin told CNN in July 2022. “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 it could irritate others.”

However, the legalization in June 2022 of the growing of marijuana and its consumption in food and drinks left many legal gray areas, which the government failed to resolve before the general election in May of last year. Nearly overnight, a dizzying array of shops, dispensaries, and other marijuana-themed businesses opened – in his interview with Reuters, Cholnan put the number at around 20,000 – stoking panics about runaway rates of recreational use. While smoking marijuana was still technically illegal, the proliferation of edible cannabis products – some in excess of the legally permitted 0.2 percent threshold for the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol – swamped the authorities’ enforcement capacity.

At last year’s election, many parties made pledges to tighten up the country’s marijuana laws. Prasert Chanruangthong, the secretary-general of the Pheu Thai Party, to which Cholnan also belongs, said at a campaign event last April, “We don’t want any more weed. We’re done with it… Pheu Thai is for medicinal marijuana, not recreational.” In a strange inversion of the politics of marijuana in many nations, even Move Forward, the most progressive major party in Thailand, pledged to relist marijuana as a controlled substance.

Under the draft legislation, Cholnan told Reuters, the import, export, cultivation, and commercial use of cannabis will now require government permits, though the government will grant businesses a grace period in order to align themselves with the new rules.

Punishments have also been tightened. Those caught using marijuana recreationally will be fined up to 60,000 baht ($1,700), while “those selling cannabis for such use and participating in advertisement or marketing of buds, resin, extract or smoking devices face jail terms of up to a year, or a fine of up to 100,000 [$2,786] baht or both.” The draft law also toughens punishment for cannabis farming without a licence. This will now be punished with prison terms of up to three years and fines of up to 300,000 baht ($8,355).

“In the new law, cannabis will be a controlled plant, so growing it would require permission,” he said. “We will support (cannabis cultivation) for the medical and health industry.”