Thailand to Re-Criminalize Cannabis

Stephen Andrews
16 May 2024

Thailand’s cannabis legislation has been pushed into a real roller coaster in the last two years. The kingdom’s authorities were exceptionally generous when they removed the plant from the list of narcotics in 2022, thus effectively decriminalizing its recreational use. The government organized a free giveaway of one million cannabis plants for that occasion. However, the political stage in Thailand has changed since then, and now the freedom that was given to the people is on track to be taken away from them.

So many cannabis users around the globe are dreaming that their country finally permits the free use of cannabis, as they did in Thailand. The kingdom wrote history as the first nation in Asia to introduce liberal laws on the recreational use of marijuana. The therapeutic plant also became a source of income for thousands of families who’ve launched small weed businesses. Vendors invented exciting new products infused with cannabis. Thai clinics reinvented traditional dishes by adding green medicine. But the dream is now nearing its end. 

Since assuming office, Thailand’s new Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, has made it clear that his government will restrict the recreational use of marijuana. He didn’t say how exactly, but now he has given specific instructions for drug lawmakers. His latest statement indicates that his government is serious about returning cannabis to the list of narcotics, and with that seal its destiny and again criminalize its use. The re-listing is is supposed to to take place by the end of the year. 

“I want the health ministry to amend the rules and re-list cannabis as a narcotic,” Mr. Srettha wrote on social media platform X, according to Reuters.

“The ministry should quickly issue a rule to allow its usage for health and medical purposes only,” his post said. 

Thailand initially decriminalized cannabis for medicinal use in 2018, and then for recreational use four years later. One of the pitfalls of the previous Thai government is that it didn’t clarify the rules and regulations for cannabis. It felt like there wasn’t any long-term strategy on how the nation should move forward with legalization. 

In spite of that, the cannabis market in Thailand transformed, going through an unprecedented boom. Small shops and cannabis vendors mushroomed all around the Southeast Asian country, with the sector projected to reach $1.2 billion worth by 2025. Re-listing cannabis as a narcotic would cause heavy damage to the nascent market, however. Most of the shops will have to close. 

Mr. Srettha made his comments following a meeting with officials involved in narcotics suppression, where he pledged to take strong action against illicit drugs. 

He emphasized that many young people are addicted to drugs, and that he expects authorities to take decisive steps in the next three months. 

The Prime Minister has also asked for reformulation of what constitutes drug possession under the law. This would mean removing verbiage such as “small amount” and substituting it with “one pill” or “one joint” in legal texts. 

What can we take in from this entire saga? Don’t go back and forth with the law. It is unfair for the people and the greater cannabis community. Don’t reverse hard-won human rights to medicate with something that is natural medicine and which poses no greater risk than alcohol or cigarettes. There are other legal ways to regulate cannabis markets and limit use if deemed necessary. It’s ridiculous for lawmakers and governments to turn back the clock on legalization anywhere in the world. 

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Stephen Andrews