BANGKOK– Two years after Thailand legalized marijuana, the country appears set to crack down on its free drug market with a ban on “recreational” use.
Legal cannabis has boosted tourism and agricultural trade in Thailand and spawned thousands of neon green shops, but faces a public backlash over perceptions that a lack of regulation has made the drug available to children and has caused crime.
The Cabinet is expected to consider legislation that would ban recreational use of cannabis and allow medicinal use as soon as Tuesday. If approved, it would go to parliament, where support for more restrictions is widespread.
A draft law circulated for public comment in January would make cannabis use “for entertainment or pleasure” a crime punishable by a fine of 60,000 baht (about $1,700). It would allow doctors marijuanabut did not give details of how it would be controlled.
Thailand was the first country in Asia to legalize cannabis. Decriminalization was spearheaded by the Bhumjaithai Party, which made it a major part of its platform in the 2019 general election. choice Campaign. The party’s stronghold is in the poor northeast, where he promised farmers that cannabis would be a new cash crop.
Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul became health minister and an important member of the military-led coalition, pushing for a 2022 amendment to the Narcotic Drugs Law that removed cannabis from the list of controlled drugs.
Anutin had promised that cannabis would only be allowed for medical use, but in practice the market was almost unregulated.
The Ministry of Health issued regulations that made cannabis a “controlled herb” that requires a license to plant or sell, in addition to prohibiting online sales, sales to pregnant women and people under 20 years of age, and smoking in public. But virtually anyone can easily purchase cannabis at many unlicensed establishments or online.
The Thai media was quickly filled with reports of drug-fueled violence and abuse, even among young people, who were not supposed to have access to the drug.
The Ministry of Health reported an increase in the number of people seeking treatment for psychological problems related to cannabis, from more than 37,000 patients in fiscal year 2022 to more than 63,000 patients in 2023. Other studies noted that more young people were using the drug. drug.
In the 2023 election campaign, all major parties, including Bhumjaithai, promised to limit cannabis to medical use.
Kalyapat Rachitroj, a lawmaker from the opposition Move Forward Party who has a medical degree, said the plant has economic benefits and uses in health care for pain relief and for terminally ill patients. But, he said, widespread recreational cannabis has created social problems such as drug abuse among youth.
Given the current situation, “we have no choice but to reclassify marijuana as a narcotic.”
Cannabis advocates and entrepreneurs oppose a radical reversal.
Chokwan “Kitty” Chopaka, a cannabis store owner and activist in Bangkok, acknowledged the problems surrounding cannabis use but said they are due to lax enforcement of existing regulations.
He said many officials still view cannabis as a dangerous narcotic. “Where we, on the other hand, see it as a plant. It’s a herb. “It’s something we’ve traditionally had for a long time.”
Rattapon Sanrak, founder of Thailand’s first legal cannabis store, said it would be an overreaction to put cannabis back on the narcotics list.
He also said the move would be impractical or even impossible, given the huge growth in the industry.
“I don’t think there is anyone who disagrees with the control of use in minors. “No one wants to see people smoking marijuana on the street,” she said. “The vendors…don’t want to see those street vendors selling without a license either.”
He called for more discussion on the best way to control the drug.
“People who don’t like it, people who are users, people who operate businesses, I think these parties have to find common ground on how to exist together.”