Thailand Leaders Scramble To Backpedal Law as 6,000 Pot Shops Open
Thousands of cannabis shops opened across Thailand after the nation became the first in Asia to decriminalize cannabis, and there are no signs of a slowdown as opposition to the industry grows, led by the country’s new prime minister.
On June 9, 2022, Thailand removed cannabis from the nation’s list of banned drugs, making the country the first Asian nation to decriminalize pot. Government officials claimed that the move does not legalize cannabis for recreational purposes. Under Thailand’s new regulations, marijuana and hemp cultivation and commerce are no longer illegal. Restaurants and cafes are permitted to sell foods and beverages infused with cannabis, but only if they contain no more than 0.2% THC. Products with higher concentrations of THC are allowed for medical purposes.
Thailand’s new prime minister, Srettha Thavisin, declared war on drugs as a national agenda in his campaign, Bangkok Post reports, focusing on meth, but with part of the plan to scale back the country’s cannabis policy. “A consensus has been reached among the 11 coalition parties as well as all other parties in the opposition that the need to tackle the drugs problem is high on the agenda,” he said. “Let’s make today the start of a new fight to stamp out drug problems from society.” The falling price of meth in the country led to a surge in use. He also vowed to reclassify cannabis as a narcotic.
Thailand’s new leadership is rushing to rewrite the nation’s cannabis policy after around 6,000 cannabis shops opened up, and people found legal loopholes to sell psychoactive cannabis despite the country’s low limit on THC.
The Strait Times reports the new law created a “regulatory vacuum,” following last year’s decriminalization measure, and it created a green rush with over 6,000 dispensaries spanning across the country.
Some in favor of cannabis, however, argued that adding new regulations, such as a track and trace system used for narcotics, could actually benefit consumers.
The massive growth isn’t being ignored, but leaders say the industry policies have to be revised. Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew said in a statement late on Tuesday, “Between economic and health benefits, we put health first.”
A new draft of Thailand’s cannabis bill failed to clear parliamentary hurdles before an election in May. The bill was significantly rewritten due to concerns that misuse of cannabis could lead to addiction.
The Guardian reports that Thavisin, has said his administration will “rectify” the country’s cannabis law and limit its use to medical purposes—all within six months. PM Srettha came into power last August, and ran his campaign under the Pheu Thai Party—with a hardline anti-drug agenda, promising to control the nation’s exploding cannabis market. Furthermore, the Pheu Thai Party is now in a coalition with Bhumjaithai Party led by Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, which led to the decriminalization of cannabis in the first place.
“The law will need to be rewritten,” Srettha told Bloomberg reporter Haslinda Amin in an interview in New York, where he was attending the UN general assembly. Bloomberg posted a video of the interview on X, formerly Twitter.
“It needs to be rectified. We can have that regulated for medical use only.”
When asked if there will be a compromise for recreational use of cannabis, Srettha answered “no,” adding that problems due to cannabis use have been “widespread lately.”
High Times covered exactly how widespread the industry is getting.
A four-part series by High Times Vice President of Content Jon Cappetta, starting with Part 1, covered the new cannabis scene in Bangkok, Thailand. There, dispensaries dotted the streets all over and strip malls were home to as many as 20 cannabis businesses.
Thanet Supornsahasrungsi, group executive director of Sunshine Hotels and Resorts in Pattaya, said most of the cannabis shops that are open sell products meant for recreational use.
“If we would like to use it for medical purposes, law enforcement should be stricter to make sure we can offer them medical treatment which is safe for their health,” Thanet told Bangkok Post in September.
Things have been shaping up to loosen cannabis laws for years in the country. In 2018, Thailand became the first Southeast Asian nation to legalize cannabis for medical use. Two years later, the Thai cabinet approved amendments to the country’s drug laws to allow for the production and sale of medical cannabis, including flower.
Thailand remains an island of tolerance of cannabis, amid other countries like Singapore and Malaysia that impose strict corporal and capital punishments for cannabis-related offenses.
The country’s new prime minister aims to change that, ensuring that only medical dispensaries stay put.
The draft bill will likely be submitted for Cabinet approval in December.
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