Explainer: Thai Bill Seeking to Ban Recreational Cannabis
Bangkok/ Ohana/ Health & Wellness

Explainer: Thailand's Draft Bill Seeking to Ban Recreational Cannabis Use

Explainer Thailand Draft Bill Recreational Cannabis

Thailand made history as the first Asian nation to decriminalise cannabis on June 9, 2022.

The Thai government maintained its ban on the recreational use of cannabis, but scrapped marijuana from the Thai Food and Drug Administration's list of banned narcotic drugs and legalised its cultivation and possession for medical and health purposes. The new cannabis laws also saw the cancellation of cannabis-related trials and detentions, and permitted F&B establishments to sell products infused with cannabis, granted that these contained less than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound that stimulates the "high" known in cannabis use.

Legalising marijuana in Thailand stoked up the kingdom's tourism industry, drawing tourists from the world over out of curiosity and fascination for the dope. Almost 6,000 cannabis-related businesses have also been approved licenses to operate as of February 2023, according to official figures via a report by the Associated Press on July 13, 2023, with over 1,600 of these concentrated in Bangkok.

While the legalisation of cannabis was made on the premise that its use would only be allowed for medical purposes, the Associated Press reported on Feb. 13, 2024, that the cannabis market was "nearly unregulated." Soon after the legalisation, reports of drug-related violence and abuse also made the rounds in Thai media.

Almost two years on since the landmark legislation, the Thai government is now tightening its belt by introducing a new draft bill in a bid to outlaw recreational cannabis use.

Why Is This Happening?

Thailand's new prime minister, Srettha Thavisin, has spoken against the use of recreational cannabis use back in September 2023. As per The Standard via Reuters on Sept. 15, Srettha said that drug abuse is an under-addressed issue in Thailand and that the cannabis policy is only reserved for medical cannabis.

According to another Reuters report on Jan. 10, 2024, the legalisation of cannabis saw the immediate issuance of "rushed, piecemeal regulations" to suppress its use, but which only left loopholes for people to recreationally partake in cannabis.

Now, a draft bill seeking to ban recreational use in the kingdom is being canvassed among the public, led by Srettha's administration as part of his election promise.

Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew also said in the same report that the bill was drafted to ban the "wrong usage" of cannabis, which pertains to all types of recreational use.

Under the draft bill, the recreational use of cannabis includes fines as much as THB6,000 (US$1,700), whereas advertising or marketing campaigns for recreational use could include jail terms of up to one year or fines as much as THB100,000.

The bill also tightens the punishment for unlicensed cannabis farming, with jail terms of one to three years and fines ranging between THB20,000 and THB300,000.

Cannabis Advocates and Businesses

It is uncertain what lies ahead for unregulated cannabis dispensaries and shops, including the perils that those who’ve planted cannabis at home may encounter. The latter is currently permitted, granted that authorities are informed.

As the government canvasses the public's sentiments towards the draft bill, advocates, producers, and entrepreneurs of cannabis fear "economic harm" should the bill’s stipulations be adopted. Industry actors and investors expressed that the bill, which introduces tough and heavy criminal penalties, would be "unfair," according to a report by the South China Morning Post on Feb. 13.

Several of them, including cannabis dispensary owners and weed advocates, have also begun consulting lawyers in anticipation of the government's tightening of cannabis use.

Move Forward Party opposition lawmaker, Taopiphob Limjittrakorn, on the other hand, said in the report that recreational cannabis use in Thailand has become popular and normal and that the government should focus on the regulation and taxation of the industry instead.

The draft bill was canvassed for public opinion last month in January, although, as per a Bloomberg report on Feb. 13, the government has delayed the approval of the bill.

Health Minister Cholnan recently said that the ministry could not pass the bill to the Cabinet on Tuesday this week because the government required more time to “seek views” about the matter.

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