Thailand considers criminalizing cannabis use

Thailand seeks public input on a draft bill aiming to criminalize recreational cannabis use after a year of flourishing marijuana-related businesses post-decriminalization, reflecting concerns over insufficient regulation and potential misuse.

Thailand which was the first Southeast Asian nation to decriminalize cannabis in 2021, is now seeking public opinion on a draft bill that aims to outlaw the recreational use of the substance. The move follows over a year during which marijuana-related businesses flourished in the country after legalization, but insufficient regulation led to concerns about recreational use.

The cannabis industry in Thailand has rapidly expanded, with projections estimating its worth to reach up to US$1.2 billion in the coming years. This growth saw the emergence of thousands of dispensaries, along with cannabis-themed spas, restaurants, and festivals.

However, the initial regulations introduced within a week of decriminalization were perceived as rushed, leaving loopholes for recreational use. The proposed changes come as Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin expressed concerns about drug abuse, reiterating the government’s commitment to supporting only medical use of cannabis.

Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew emphasized the need for the new law to address what is deemed as the “wrong usage of cannabis,” explicitly stating that all recreational use is considered wrong. The draft bill, published on the health ministry’s website, restricts cannabis use for medical and health purposes while completely prohibiting recreational use.

Under the proposed legislation, individuals engaging in recreational use could face fines of up to 60,000 baht (approximately $1,700). Moreover, advertising or marketing campaigns related to recreational use could result in jail terms of up to one year or fines reaching as high as 100,000 baht. The draft bill also introduces stricter penalties for cannabis farming without a license, including jail terms ranging from one to three years and fines ranging from 20,000 baht to 300,000 baht.

While the fate of unregulated cannabis shops and dispensaries remains unclear, the draft legislation aims to address potential risks associated with household-scale cannabis cultivation, which is currently permitted with notification to authorities but without requiring a formal permit. The government has yet to respond to any inquiries regarding the draft bill. The public has until January 23 to provide their feedback on the draft bill, after which the cabinet will consider both the draft legislation and public suggestions before presenting it to Parliament for further deliberation.