By / January 18, 2024

Why Thailand Is Backtracking on Cannabis Legalization 18 Months After Law Change

On January 10, the Thai government announced its retreat from a progressive approach to cannabis, just 18 months after becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize the substance.

The new government, led by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, plans to limit cannabis use to medical purposes only, according to a recently proposed bill. Upon taking office last year, Srettha pledged to “fix” cannabis laws within six months, citing concerns that decriminalization would lead to an increase in recreational use.

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Proposed Restrictions in Thailand

The proposed bill, drafted by the Ministry of Public Health, restricts cannabis use to medical purposes and reintroduces harsh penalties for possession and use, including high fines and imprisonment of up to one year. The new Health Minister, Cholnan Srikaew, announced that cannabis extracts containing more than 0.2% of the active ingredient THC will be classified as drugs. He emphasized that the bill’s goal is to rectify what the government sees as “misuse of cannabis.”

Srettha’s stance marks a clear shift from the previous government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who removed cannabis from the national registry of illegal drugs, allowing legal cultivation, trade, and use of cannabis. Almost overnight, this led to a boom in cannabis-related businesses, such as stores, cafes, and cannabis spas. Cities like Chiang Mai and Bangkok embraced this trend, organizing cannabis festivals that attracted tourists and further boosted the cannabis industry.

Concerns Over Drug Abuse

In interviews, Srettha expressed concerns about drug abuse. “The policy on cannabis will concern medical cannabis,” he said shortly after taking office. “As for recreational use, I do not agree with it.”

Meanwhile, Anutin Charnvirakul, former Minister of Public Health and a major proponent of legalization, explained that the goal was never to allow public recreational use of cannabis. Instead, the intention was to promote a cannabis policy for medical purposes, creating economic opportunities for farmers.

Disappointment Among Legalization Supporters in Thailand

The sudden policy shift has disappointed legalization advocates, raising concerns about its impact on the economy and numerous businesses invested in the cannabis sector.

Advocacy groups such as the Future Cannabis Network argue that the new government’s change of approach is hasty, suggesting it’s too late to classify cannabis as an illegal drug.

Kitty Chopaka, a cannabis advocate, told Voice of America that she hopes the government will stop at a ban without general prohibition. “I hope this means eliminating unlicensed places or illegal cannabis,” she said, expressing concerns that re-criminalization will have a significant impact on the poor.

Global Trends in Cannabis Acceptance

In recent years, there has been an increase in the acceptance of cannabis in many parts of the world. Several countries and states are moving towards decriminalization, and even full legalization of cannabis for both medical and recreational use. This trend is driven by evolving social attitudes, recognition of potential economic benefits, and acknowledgment of the medicinal properties of cannabis.

International Perspectives and Potential Impact

Contrary to Thailand’s recent shift, countries like Canada and many U.S. states have legalized recreational cannabis, generating significant revenue and establishing legal frameworks for its use and sale. In Europe, nations like the Netherlands and Portugal have adopted liberal approaches, focusing on harm reduction and treatment rather than strict criminalization.

Thailand’s sudden change in recreational cannabis policy raises concerns about its potential impact on the burgeoning cannabis industry and investors. The unexpected shift could lead to unintended consequences, including economic effects and potential legal challenges.

The reception of this decision, both domestically and internationally, remains uncertain, especially in light of the evolving global discussion on cannabis.

International Repercussions and Observations

The repercussions extend beyond national borders, and the international community, especially countries like Canada and some European nations known for supporting liberal drug policies, will likely closely watch Thailand’s move. This move may also influence the regional landscape in neighboring countries with conservative drug policies, who might see Thailand’s policy as validation of their stance.

The government plans to complete drafting the cannabis bill next week. Parliamentary debates on the bill are expected to begin the following week. However, the official confirmation of the enactment date remains undisclosed for now. It is important to note that the deadline for public comments has been set for January 23. The government will then assess both the bill draft and the received suggestions before submitting it to Parliament for further discussion.

(Featured image by Geoff Greenwood via Unsplash)

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First published in Fakty Konopne, a third-party contributor translated and adapted the article from the original. In case of discrepancy, the original will prevail.

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