Thailand: Decriminalisation of cannabis creates economic opportunities, looming concerns

Cannabis on sale in a café in Bangkok.
Cannabis on sale in a café in Bangkok. © gojagallerycafe

Thailand legalised cannabis in June 22, promoting it for medical use only, in a bid to create economic growth for the country, which was severely hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. As the country’s cannabis industry continues to develop, criticism and concerns over the abuse of the substance are rife.

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On 9 June 2022, Thailand was the first country in Southeast Asia to decriminalise cannabis with the hope of galvanising its Covid-hit economy. 

Individuals are now allowed to plant and sell their own plants. The extracts of cannabis have also been used to produce diverse products such as toothpaste and coffee.

While, legally speaking, the use of cannabis is restricted to medical purposes, many consume the substance privately for recreational reasons, given that it is now more accessible. 

The cannabis coffee vending machine in the Yaowarat district (Chinatown) in Bangkok.

Kotaro, our Observer in Bangkok, quickly integrated cannabis within his art gallery, GOJA, in East Sukhumvit. Clients can purchase (but not smoke) a wide variety of cannabis while vibing to music with their drinks.

People around us are generally happy about the decision, as it had been promised by the government for years.

Detailed laws and regulations regarding THC products are supposed to be finalised in September. Other than that, during this post-Covid era, I think that the decriminalisation of cannabis is a good way of getting foreign tourists back to Thailand.

In fact, there are farms that grow cannabis flowers certified by the Ministry of Public Health of Thailand, and that is where we get our products.

GreenLab, for example, is on the list. They are already selling [cannabis] flowers in many markets in Thailand, as it is run by the government. 

Cannabis available at GOJA Café in Bangkok

Cannabis available at GOJA Café in Bangkok

As it is illegal to smoke weed in public, Kotaro said customers are reminded to bring the products home for consumption. In addition, to purchase cannabis, one has to be older than 20, and selling the substance to fragile individuals, including kids and pregnant women, may result in serious punishments by law. 

 

'Each day, I sell about 30 to 50 grams of cannabis.'

The Observers also spoke with Kit, an online cannabis dealer in Thailand.

I sell the products through WhatsApp and Line [Editor’s note: Line is a communication application similar to WhatsApp, commonly used in Asia ]. Each day, I sell about 30 to 50 grams of cannabis. Additionally, I also run a wholesale business. As there are many cannabis shops in Thailand nowadays, I sell my storage to them at a minimum of 100g per deal.                                     

 

Flash-mob cannabis-selling truck
Flash-mob cannabis-selling truck © Facebook/@N’Louis’ Happy Buds

 

'I do not think the stigma towards ganja can ever go entirely away'

Four months ago, our Observer in Phuket, Carl, a cannabis advocate from the US, started his newsletter Cannabis in Thailand. To him, the decriminalisation of cannabis is a very interesting topic for Southeast Asia, as it might be a potential solution to the poverty that has long been plaguing the region. Carl believes that Thailand, in this case, set an exceptional example for its neighbours.

I am a regular user of cannabis, and I use it in a responsible way. 

I do not think the stigma toward ganja can ever go entirely away, even in the US, and Thailand is no exception.

There are prohibitionists in Thailand trying to undo the legal reform. One really exciting thing is that the Thai government actually pushes back their attempts to keep the stigma alive. 

Anutin Charnvirakul, the Thai Public Health Minister, also talks about how proud he is of eradicating the stigma around the substance, and I think we need a similar attitude around the world.

Mass objections from the medical world

Despite the commercial gains of decriminalising cannabis in Thailand, the move has also raised concerns from the public and the medical sector. 

Several of Thailand’s leading hospitals issued a public announcement against the government’s decision, expressing concerns about fragile groups potentially abusing consumption of the substance. 

Petition to ban cannabis in Thailand. The text claims “Thailand may be the first country in the world to allow children to use cannabis freely!”
Petition to ban cannabis in Thailand. The text claims “Thailand may be the first country in the world to allow children to use cannabis freely!” © Observers

Carl told us that he believes individuals should be responsible for their own decisions.

You do need to regulate things to a certain degree, since nothing should have a wide open access. But we do not regulate sugar enough, either, even though relevant regulations will certainly be good for the young people. 

There are consequences for the inefficiency of the Thai government, and the authorities are now paying the price for it. Nevertheless, change is coming.

For instance, according to recent regulation, all cannabis sellers must be licensed, so you will not have guys on motorbikes rolling and selling cannabis on the street or anything like that.

As the Health Minister said: ‘People who end up in hospital are abusing cannabis, and they deserve the karma for abusing this plant.’ As long as you are an adult, I think this philosophy applies.

On the other hand, Baedrian, a medical worker at the affiliated hospital of the Chulalongkorn University, told the Observers: 

I agree with the cannabis-free policy because the government simply decriminalised it without clear complementary policies and sufficient medical support to users.

My concern is that many innocent people might underestimate the effects that cannabis could have while consuming it.

If the regulations become more clear in September, then I will probably have nothing against it.

Thailand’s Health Minister has said he hopes the legalisation of cannabis will provide wealth and that people will consume the plant responsibly. The cannabis industry is expected to create 3 billion euros of profit within the next five years.