Thailand legalised cannabis in June 2022, removing it from the national narcotics list. Let’s explore the state of play a year later.
How did Thailand legalise cannabis?
In June 2022, Thailand became the first country in Southeast Asia to legalise cannabis following the Food and Drug Administration’s removal of all parts of the plant from the national narcotics list. Thailand had previously legalised medical cannabis in 2019, and its leaves in 2021.
At the time, the Thai government said the new regulations were intended to promote small-scale cannabis farms and bring a much-needed boost to the country’s agricultural sector which accounts for around ⅓ of the national workforce. As well as this, cannabis legalisation was intended to bolster Thailand’s economy – with the potential to generate 10 billion baht per year (around £22.5m), whilst allowing people to showcase their cannabis and hemp-related products.
In May 2022, the government signalled its commitment to home cultivation when it announced its decision to give out 1 million free cannabis plants to citizens across the country. According to Thailand’s Health Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, more than 1.1 million people applied for cultivation licences between June and August 2022.
Thai government officials have maintained that cannabis should only be used for medicinal purposes, with the Health Minister taking a hard stance against recreational use. However, the lack of regulation that came alongside the plant’s removal from the national narcotics list means that a legal grey area essentially allows for recreational use.
Cannabis in Thailand in 2023
However, what is the situation like in Thailand one year post-legalisation?
The decision to legalise has had a notable impact on the number of people incarcerated in Thailand. Previously, anyone caught trading or growing cannabis risked a $46,000 fine and prison sentence of up to 15 years. It’s estimated that people convicted of drug-related offences accounted for 80% of Thailand’s prison population. When the new rules were introduced around 4,000 Thai prisoners became eligible for release, a step towards reducing their high prison population.
Although Thailand’s tourism sector may have taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears that cannabis legalisation may have given it the boost it needed. Most Asian countries have strict laws on cannabis usage – as the outlier, Thailand has become a popular destination for Asian tourists who want to try the drug. According to CBS news, the manager of one weed shop estimates that around 70-80% of his customers are foreign, mostly from Asian countries but some from Europe.
However, this isn’t to say that tourists are reckless in their approach. As many hail from countries with strict drug laws Asian tourists have been described as ‘curious but cautious’. Singapore still enforces the death penalty for drug offences and China and Japan have warned nationals that their drug laws may still apply when citizens are abroad. As such, customers from China and Singapore have been reported as incredibly careful when buying cannabis products – making sure to ask questions like ‘how long does cannabis remain in the system?’.
Reported figures suggest the decision to legalise has provided the much-needed boost to the Thai economy. According to research by Prohibition Partners, sales of cannabis in Thailand could reach $24m by 2026, with the University of Thai Chamber of Commerce predicting that the industry could be worth $1.2bn by 2025.
However, there is growing concern that a reversal of the decision to legalise may be on the horizon. In the lead up to the national elections in May there was a clear shift in the attitude towards cannabis, even amongst more ‘progressive parties’.
The Move Forward party, who have historically been popular among young people, have been vocal about their opposition to recreational cannabis. As a result they have called for cannabis to be put back on the narcotics list, with great regulation. Similarly, the Pheu Thai party have also been vocal in their opposition, claiming that cannabis use is corrupting young people.
In the May election, the Move Forward party secured a surprise victory, but has yet to receive the backing of the upper and lower houses. Despite this, the negative political sentiment around cannabis has left campaigners and business owners both disappointed and worried about the future.
Judging from the initial response, Thailand’s legalisation of cannabis in 2022 seemed a popular prospect among tourists and citizens. Allowing people to access and cultivate, whilst providing a much needed boost to the economy and reducing the high prison population. A year later and these themes still hold true. However, the lack of clarity surrounding recreational use and shifting political stance means that the future of legal access to cannabis in Thailand remains uncertain.
This piece was written by Volteface Content and Media Officer Megan Townsend. She is particularly interested in the reform of drug legislation, subcultural drug use and harm reduction initiatives. She also has an MA in Criminology from Birmingham City University. Tweets @megant2799.