The future of thousands of small businesses in Thailand that have thrived in the kingdom’s post-deregulation cannabis market which is now one of the world’s most open, is on the line as the Pheu Thai-led government readies its plan to tackle the problem. The widespread use of marijuana however is not receiving the support it had hoped for from the recovering foreign tourism industry and is strongly opposed by the public.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has announced a new drive by his government to crack down on illegal drugs in the kingdom, particularly on the scourge of speed and methamphetamine pills. It comes as the new Minister of Public Health, Dr Cholnan Srikaew, is reportedly looking at the approach the government will take to the country’s problem with the widespread use of cannabis or marijuana in the aftermath of a botched deregulation of the drug which happened after June last year. This week, the tourist industry came out to support a proposed crackdown on existing widespread recreational cannabis and marijuana use which industry spokespeople made clear is not an asset to the industry or the attraction the international media portrayed last year. The availability of highly potent pot or marijuana for recreational use faces strong opposition from the public and is something the Pheu Thai Party promised before the election to suppress.
The tourism industry has come out in support of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who announced this week that his government would crack down on recreational use of cannabis or marijuana in Thailand, even if this includes shuttering the thousands of cannabis outlets throughout the country, driving the free-for-all, which many tourist industry insiders believe has become more of a nuisance than an attraction for the country’s critically valuable industry.
This week, the Group Director of Sunshine Holidays and Resorts in Pattaya castigated the proliferation of cannabis shops in the resort city.
‘You can easily find a cannabis shop every 200 to 300 metres along the streets of Pattaya and 90% of them are not for medical purposes,’ he warned.
Pattaya tourist leader talks of hotel guests being admitted to the government hospital in a comatose condition caused by uncontrolled cannabis abuse
Mr Thanet Supornsahasrungsi told reporters that many cases are being reported of tourists and hotel guests being admitted to Emergency Rooms at the city’s main hospital in a comatose condition having been discovered by hotel staff due to the current widespread use of the drug and sky-high THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) levels associated with the marijuana substances now being retailed through such shops and outlets in Pattaya.
As in Bangkok, much of what is being sold is being reported to be specially cultivated cannabis or marijuana, designed to give a powerful recreational high, that is being imported into Thailand from the United States, particularly from California.
The tourist industry leader also spoke of difficulties and tribulations being encountered by tourists who purchase cannabis-infused products and later bring them home to their own countries to find that they are illegal, causing them to become dangerously entangled in worldwide drug trafficking laws.
Cannabis products also a threat to foreign tourists
Mr Thanet said it is clear that Thailand has failed to regulate the explosion of cannabis use not only in the recreational consumption of weed by tourists in the kingdom but also in the proliferation of products that are being sold that are not being screened properly, as required by law, especially for the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) value and even if they are, which are poorly labelled, causing problems for the industry.
The proliferation of cannabis shops in Thailand came quickly after June 4th, 2022, when a ministerial order signed by then Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, at the beginning of 2022, came into effect.
The situation caused instant confusion over the regulation of cannabis which even drew calls from senior officers within the Royal Thai Police to the government to issue clarifications on how consumption of cannabis should be controlled such as what to do with dangerous driving on the roads and other practical matters.
The upshot has been that it has proved difficult to control the recreational cannabis industry sprouting in every city and town across the kingdom.
Phuket is experiencing its own problems with recreational cannabis used in hotels where the stink of weed and the effect of the smoke disturbs guests
This week, Mr Suksit Suvunditkul, the president of the Southern Chapter of the Thai Hotels Association also concurred with the verdict from Pattaya that the use of cannabis by tourists in hotels on the holiday island had caused disturbances for other guests with the smell and even physical effects of smoke from the the drug, impacting other tourists who do not consume.
He said the recreational use of cannabis should be suppressed in Thailand.
Even in the interim, as an emergency measure, he suggested some effort be made to zone the use of the drug as it has become a disruptive factor.
Mr Suksit made it clear that the closure of cannabis dispensary outlets selling marijuana for recreational use would not have a negative impact on the country’s tourism business.
‘European guests have recovered by 80% with forward bookings in the upcoming season reaching 40-50% already,’ Mr Suksit declared. ‘If the government closes cannabis shops, it would not affect the tourism business. Phuket posted steady growth even before cannabis was liberalised.’
New Prime Minister may use anti-drug sentiment to help his government make its mark but first of all against the methamphetamine threat
In the last week, Mr Srettha Thavisin who has been anxious to assert his government’s new departure in terms of policy from the previous government, announced a drive to see the elimination of illegal drug activity especially methamphetamine pills within the next year as a key priority objective.
On Sunday 10th of September, before his trip to New York this week, he was on hand at a plant in Samut Prakan where tons of illegal narcotics were destroyed.
The drugs were linked with criminal cases that had been finalised and included over 12 tons of methamphetamine pills, 11 tons of crystal methamphetamine and 418 kilograms of pure heroin.
Methamphetamine in the last few decades has seen hundreds of thousands of Thai people jailed and thousands of murders and deaths associated with the extremely dangerous substance which is flooding the kingdom from just outside Thailand’s border in the Golden Triangle controlled by powerful drug syndicates closely linked to Chinese mafia organisations.
New government to target drug industry finances
Mr Srettha told reporters that the policy of his government would be to target the finances of drug dealers at all levels in the kingdom who have proven to be canny at exploiting the criminal law procedures to keep their insidious networks working even when they are arrested.
He promised they would disappear during the term of his government.
‘Narcotics problems have been on the government’s national agenda since it was formed,’ Mr Srettha explained to reporters. ‘As Prime Minister, I lead the combination of efforts from all organisations and people to solve the problem and I will keep you updated on its progress.’
Mr Srettha told reporters that his government would be instructing the country’s police drug suppression agencies to move smartly to confiscate the assets of all drug dealers.
‘If authorities take too long to confiscate a drug dealer’s assets, he will be financially healthy enough to resume his narcotics business. Drug dealers must be tackled decisively. These people are criminals who shouldn’t just be jailed. What they fear most is the confiscation of their assets. I am asking organisations to impound their assets as soon as possible and not to let them be transferred conveniently.’
Prime Minister has stated he personally opposes the recreational use of cannabis as the new Minister of Public Health formulates new regulations
The declaration of intent by the Prime Minister came just days after he also made it clear that his government was opposed in principle to the recreational use of cannabis or marijuana which has taken off in the country since the former Minister for Public Health and now Minister of the Interior, Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, signed regulatory orders at the beginning of 2022.
With thousands of cannabis outlets now in operation, catering not just to the medical use of the substance but its enjoyment as a recreational drug, the cannabis industry has tried to organise itself to fight off its potential demise.
It has, through key operators and trade associations, implored the new government not to suppress what it sees as an industry which is catering to the foreign tourism market and an expanded domestic user base with projections that it could be worth up to ฿50 billion or $1.5 billion over the next five years.
Cannabis policy has a political undertone in cabinet
It is understood that this may become a fractious matter for the new cabinet which is balanced between Pheu Thai ministers and ministers associated with the former government of General Prayut Chan ocha, many of whom, apart from the Bhumjaithai Party which accounts for eight out of thirty-five ministers in the cabinet, also oppose the recreational use of the drug and helped thwart a law. associated last year with its deregulation, which would have ensconced the industry and possibly paved the way to legal recreational use at a later stage, despite furious denials by the Bhumjaithai Party.
The Bhumjaithai Party still insists that it is also opposed to the recreational use of the drug although its leader, Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul in 2022, repeatedly urged the public to change its attitude towards the drug.
That attitude remains decisively opposed to the widespread and indiscriminate use of marijuana for recreational use.
It is known, for instance, that Deputy Prime Minister Anutin and the Bhumjaithai Party are anxious to maintain the side industry that was established in recent years.
Dr Cholnan and officials are looking at ways to effectively outlaw high-grade cannabis products with a THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) over 0.2%
The new Minister for Public Health and former Pheu Thai leader, Dr Cholnan Srikaew, is currently looking at the situation to possibly take up the legislation which was defeated in the last parliamentary term but to amend it to more effectively regulate the use of cannabis.
Officials at the Ministry of Public Health, known also to vehemently oppose the recreational use of pot, advising the new minister, have suggested that they are looking at the provisions regarding the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) value of the drug on sale in Thailand, which should, by law, be under 0.2% as a means to rein in the sale of marijuana for recreational use.
Some of the cannabis products currently on sale in Thailand have a THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) value of 25% to 40%.
When the previous cabinet agreed to deregulate in January 2022, it was stipulated that only homegrown and regulated cannabis with a THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) of less than 0.2% and certain parts of the cannabis plant would be exempted from criminal prosecution.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is what allows the drug to give users a pleasant euphoria or sense of ease from the drug, which campaigners and activists against the recent liberalisation have described as an altered perception.
Continuous and well-documented reports of dramatic increases since June last year in incidents presented to both the police and emergency services at hospitals linked with psychotic episodes and other illnesses have been attributed to the use of marijuana for recreational purposes.
A polarising subject that is dividing the world
It is not clear yet what the intentions of the Minister for Public Health are, at this point, but it is likely to lead to tension and friction within the cabinet given that public opinion in Thailand is very much against the continued wholesale recreational use of cannabis as is now allowed across the kingdom.
The debate on the liberalisation and use of cannabis for recreational purposes is dividing opinion across the world.
It comes with new moves in the United States and indeed now in Europe to further liberalise the use of the drug, being met with opposition from conservative groups and opinions within the medical establishment against the trend.
Recent studies in the United States have shown that cannabis has been linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and mental illness.