In June 2022, Thailand made history by becoming the first Asian country to decriminalize cannabis, paving the way for more than 6,000 cannabis shops across the country.
This rush for green gold, however, has encountered an unexpected obstacle: opposition has intensified under the leadership of new Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin who seeks a delicate balance between economic opportunities and public health concerns.
The rise of the Thai cannabis industry
Thailand’s foray into cannabis liberalization began in 2018 when it became the first Southeast Asian nation to legalize cannabis for medical purposes. The following years were marked by various amendments authorizing the production and sale of medical cannabis for businesses but also for individuals. Thailand’s newfound tolerance of cannabis stood in stark contrast to neighboring countries, such as Singapore and Malaysia, which maintain strict punitive measures for cannabis-related crimes.
The decriminalization of cannabis in June 2022, with very broad regulations, resulted in the proliferation of thousands of cannabis stores across the country. A regulatory void emerged, creating difficulties in overseeing an industry that grew faster than the government could regulate it.
In Bangkok, dispensaries are scattered throughout the streets, with shopping malls housing up to 20 cannabis businesses. This situation prompted the newly elected government, led by Prime Minister Thavisin, to want to regulate the cannabis industry and use.
Regulatory challenges and public health concerns
The unexpected growth of the cannabis industry has forced the government to reevaluate its policies. Health Minister Mr Cholnan Srikaew stressed that despite the economic benefits, health considerations would take priority. The failure to pass a new version of Thailand’s cannabis bill before May’s elections has highlighted concerns about the risks of abuse and addiction. Mr Thavisin has pledged to “rectify” Thailand’s cannabis laws, limiting its use for medical purposes within six months of taking office.
Prime Minister Thavisin recognized the need for a complete rewrite of cannabis laws at the time. He said regulations needed to be “rectified” to ensure cannabis was regulated exclusively for medical use. Asked if there was a compromise for recreational use, Mr. Thavisin responded firmly with a “no,” citing the widespread problems associated with cannabis use in recent times.
The government, led by Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew, intends to strengthen control of the Thai cannabis industry. A new cannabis bill is expected to be submitted for Cabinet approval in December. The revised bill is expected to fill gaps and gaps, define permitted uses of cannabis and introduce new cultivation protocols and new criminal penalties for violations. It remains to be seen what will be included in “medical” use and which would still allow the industry to develop and welcome the many tourists now looking for legal cannabis in this part of the world.