Thailand's Shift: New Prime Minister Plans To Criminalize Cannabis Reversing 2022 Decision

Zinger Key Points
  • Thai Prime Minister Srettha plans to criminalize weed, reversing the 2022 decriminalization, part of a general anti-cannabis plan.
  • The move has sparked protests and lawsuits from dispensary owners, of which there are some 8000 as it scuttles a $1.2B industry.
Thailand's Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin plans to re-criminalize cannabis, reversing the 2022 decision. This may lead to public protests.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has declared his government’s intention to re-criminalize cannabis by the end of 2024, undoing the country´s 2022 decision to decriminalize the plant.

The initial decriminalization of cannabis had catalyzed the establishment of a robust industry, fostering thousands of dispensaries and attracting foreign investment into high-tech cannabis farms. A report by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce in 2022 even estimated the industry’s potential value at $1.2 billion by 2025. However, under the proposed changes, cannabis would be relabeled as a “category five” narcotic, making it illegal to “produce, sell, import, export, or possess” the plant for non-medical purposes.

Facing Protests And Legal Challenges

This announcement comes after Thavisin, a former real estate businessman who took office in August, shared on social media his directive for the Ministry of Health to permit only medical and health-related uses of cannabis. This comes in the context of announced efforts “to solve the drugs problem within 90 days” in an X post on Wednesday.

The re-criminalization move has already ignited backlash, reported Time. Rattapon Sanrak, owner of the Bangkok-based Highland Cafe, voiced the frustration of many: “We're all doing everything by the book but then suddenly the book is going to change.”

Resistance measures have been prepared for months as the government´s move comes in a coordinated and preannounced effort. Community and industry members are threatening to organize street protests and class-action lawsuits to repel the sudden changes in the regulatory paradigm. The nearly 8000 Affected dispensaries will likely join in. These class-action lawsuits were in January of this year.

The policy reversal risks not only legal pushback but economic repercussions, undermining the growth and stability of the nascent cannabis sector. This concern is shared by the advocacy group Writing Thailand's Cannabis Future, which announced a protest scheduled for May 16 in Bangkok.

Meanwhile, this week in a landmark shift in drug policy, Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health officially sanctioned the medical and research use of opium and psilocybin mushrooms, commonly known as magic mushrooms.

Thailand´s U-Turn

The new government’s conservative approach contrasts sharply with its prior liberal stance, which positioned the Kingdom as a pioneer in cannabis reform within Southeast Asia. The 2022 decision made Thailand the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize recreational cannabis and the third in the world after Canada and Uruguay. This liberalization was originally intended to enhance agricultural income and promote wellness tourism.

Thavisin made clear his stance towards cannabis before the May 2023 election when Pheu Thai Party came out against “full cannabis legalization.” Pushing the anti-cannabis agenda, Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew signed a bill to modify the cannabis legislation. “The use for fun is considered wrong,” stated Srikaew after people complained about smelling weed in a Coldplay concert on February this year.

The Bhumjaithai Party, instrumental in the 2022 decriminalization under the previous administration but now a part of Thavisin’s government, argues that regulating recreational use would be more effective than outright prohibition.

Should they hold, these changes will not affect the medical and research use of cannabis which is still approved. As this policy debate unfolds, the consequences will likely resonate far beyond Thailand’s borders, possibly influencing regional drug policy.

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Posted In: CannabisGovernmentNewsRegulationsCannabis Regulationlegal weedThailand Cannabis
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