Thailand’s Cannabis Clash: Industry rebels against Pheu Thai’s efforts to frame a new law on cannabis. What some see as an effort at preserving public health, others see as a draconian law threatening to an end to the Pot revolution. Minister Cholnan appeared this week to do a U-Turn. It may lead to political tensions as Bhumjaithai’s legacy hangs in the balance. Tourism, health, and political interests collide as a new legal regime is thrashed out.

The cannabis industry is pushing back at Pheu Thai’s efforts to again criminalise the drug for recreational purposes. This week, Minister of Public Health Dr Cholnan Srikaew was forced to clarify that a hardline draft bill signed by him was not final. The minister said it was a draft position prepared by his industry for the Prime Minister’s Office. However, the final law to be presented to parliament would, first of all, be agreed by the cabinet. The bill, which is to be treated as financial legislation, therefore has become one of political importance. In view of the contrast between the policies of the Pheu Thai Party and its coalition partner, the Bhumjaithai Party, the issue has the potential to become as politically divisive as it is within society.

Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul (left), leader of the Bhumjaithai Party, the architect of the runaway cannabis revolution from June 2022. (right) Minister of Public Health Dr Cholnan Srikaew is the former Pheu Thai Party leader. At this time, he is tasked with regulating the situation by law. Both were party to talks in July/ August 2023, leading to the formation of the current coalition government.

Facing pressure last week after showing his hand with his intention to curb the recreational use of marijuana, Minister of Public Health Dr Cholnan Srikaew clarified that what he had signed was a note to the Prime Minister’s Office outlining his ministry’s position on the issue.

At length, a final bill will first have to be submitted and approved by the cabinet before a law is presented to the House of Representatives.

Undoubtedly, however, Thailand finds itself at a crossroads in shaping its cannabis policy. 

Pot industry already faces brutal competition as a government bill threatens to effectively close its doors by taking away its commercial raison d’être

The current policy, formed evidently by a mishap when marijuana was declassified as a narcotic without regulatory legislation, has opened up a free-for-all.

The country now has thousands of cannabis retailers engaged in a vicious struggle to compete for a limited market.

Meanwhile, imports from the United States are flooding the country. At length, this has lowered prices and raised concerns over quality and the lack of law enforcement.

Marijuana industry faces disaster as Health Minister unveils law to outlaw recreational pot use in Thailand

Presently, there is also delay, controversy, and uncertainty clouding the drafting process of the cannabis and hemp control bill. 

Public Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew’s recent announcement on the bill’s incomplete status has drawn concern and criticism from both sides.

In essence, this is a political hot potato with unpredictable consequences.

Undoubtedly the criminalisation of the use of cannabis for recreational purposes spells the end for the marijuana industry that has sprung up. Indeed, its whole raison d’être for its customers is smoking pot to get high.

This fact gets lost amid the political hyperbole. Presently, politicians frame their position from widespread support for its medical use, an endeavour with less commercial potential.

New draft legislation would scuttle Bhumjaithai Party leader’s legacy. Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has remained tight-lipped and ambivalent

What the ministry proposed last week would scuttle Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul’s legacy as Minister of Public Health.

Whether you agree with pot or not, the now Minister of the Interior’s achievement in reversing many decades of its illegal status was a stunning political achievement. Was it a political mishap or part of a wider plan? Minister Anutin has long been tight-lipped and ambivalent.

Certainly, both Anutin and his Bhumjaithai Party have always denied supporting the recreational use of cannabis. Especially for the benefit of foreign tourists.

Public Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew revealed last Wednesday that the drafting of the cannabis bill is far from complete. Contrary to earlier reports, the bill has not yet been forwarded to the cabinet. 

Dr Cholnan clarified what was submitted earlier to the cabinet was the ministry’s views on the bill and cannabis.

Previously, there was a letter from MPs claiming it as financial legislation. The prime minister’s secretariat sought the ministry’s perspective in response.

Drafting new cannabis bill still in progress says Minister

The minister expressed confidence that the drafting process would conclude by next week. However, he faces criticism for endorsing the draft bill without fulfilling the promise of consulting the civil sector, as pledged earlier.

Dr Cholnan remains steadfast in his belief that cannabis should only be used for medical purposes.

In brief, this aligns with the prime minister’s policy statement to parliament. The legislation is being crafted to support this principle. 

In effect, cannabis extracts containing more than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are to be classified again as a narcotic.

Thus, smoking pot for a recreational high becomes a criminal offence as before. This stringent approach aims to regulate and control the potential misuse of cannabis.

Existing cannabis shops, having obtained permission to operate as business establishments, are allowed to continue functioning.

The forthcoming bill, however, is expected to shift its focus towards preventing the misuse of cannabis, drawing criticism from advocates of cannabis legalisation, particularly those in the civil sector.

Simultaneously, there are mixed views within the foreign tourism industry about the impact of a liberal cannabis policy on the  trade.

Tourism sector unconcerned about the suppression of recreational pot except on Bangkok’s Khao San Road

Sa-nga Ruangwattanakul, president of the Khao San Road Business Association, emphasised the unique draw that cannabis holds for foreign tourists.

According to him, cannabis is one of the reasons foreign tourists choose to visit Khao San Road, making it a top 10 tourist destination in Thailand.

He argued that the economic impact is significant. For instance, cannabis shops on Khao San Road generate between ฿20-฿30 million in revenue monthly.

Khao San Road, known for its entertainment venues and restaurants, has become synonymous with cannabis tourism. Sa-nga highlighted the importance of designating specific zones for cannabis. Particularly in tourist areas, to preserve the economic benefits associated with its consumption.

Certainly, business operators in Pattaya are not convinced marijuana is good for the industry.

Damrongkieat Pinijkarn, secretary of the Pattaya Entertainment Association, talks of negative consequences.

In summary, the wrong kinds of visitors are attracted to the substance with its misuse being widespread. In contrast, the resort city’s nightlife and entertainment sectors are its strengths.

Cannabis advocates came out in force after the news emerged of the proposed new law. They decry efforts by Minister Cholnan to bypass promised consultations

Advocates of cannabis legalisation especially criticised the minister’s endorsement of the draft bill without prior consultation with the civil sector.

The move has sparked controversy within the nascent industry. They claim a lack of transparency in the drafting process. 

At the same time, deep concerns have been voiced about restrictions on cannabis use, particularly for recreational purposes.

Despite the very real prospect of potential closures of cannabis shops, tourism operators are less concerned.

In essence, business operators believe that the overall impact on the tourism industry may be limited. They also believe that cannabis or marijuana has had a significantly harmful impact.

Ratchaporn Poolsawadee, president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui, supports the draft bill.

He believes restricting cannabis use to medical purposes will significantly improve public health.

Business groups on Ko Samui want cannabis suppressed

Mr Ratchaporn acknowledged the surge in cannabis shops in Samui after 2022. Shockingly, the island alone is home to over 600 cannabis retail outlets.

Overall, decriminalisation, according to him, has seen widespread recreational consumption. In brief, the draft bill aims to address these concerns by enforcing clear regulations and restrictions.

Undoubtedly, the national political landscape makes the government’s efforts to formulate a cannabis policy more complex. 

The Bhumjaithai Party’s signature policy of unlocking marijuana during the 2019 election campaign now faces opposition.

Particularly from the Pheu Thai Party, the largest coalition partner. The conflict in policies between the parties raises questions about the future direction of marijuana regulation within this government.

National political stage may prevent a decisive move bringing cannabis under control despite the talk. It may instead lead to raised tensions in cabinet

The Bhumjaithai Party had initially presented the ‘Unlock Marijuana’ policy during the 2019 election campaign.

At length, the party emphasised its commitment to cannabis liberalisation.

However, with both parties now part of the coalition government, cannabis policy is bound to create uncertainty and tension.

In the meantime, a group called the Thai Cannabis Future Writing Network has joined the fray.

This week, it took to Thai news media complaining about the lack of transparency within the Ministry of Public Health in formulating the pot law. 

The network claims Dr Cholnan did not keep his word on consulting the public before submitting the proposed cannabis law.

They argue that the measures outlined in the draft bill lack a factual basis. They especially question the need for a doctor’s permission to smoke cannabis indoors.

The network also questions plans to limit cannabis use for various health conditions and the removal of households’ rights to plant.

They call for evidence-based measures and a comparison of the pros and cons of cannabis with other substances. The group posed a comparison between cannabis use and methamphetamine in addition to alcohol.

Claims by pro-cannabis online lobbying groups that alcohol is being promoted while methamphetamine use is being tolerated under new government policies

Evidently, they claimed that authorities in Thailand now turn a blind eye to possession of up to five methamphetamine pills.

Additionally, they pointed to government support for alcohol consumption within the hospitality and nightlife sectors for foreign tourism.

In contrast, they suggested that marijuana was less harmful and more beneficial to people. It is not a popular view nor one supported by opinion polls. 

The claims in relation to methamphetamine are misleading. In short, this is a level by which a person can face drug dealing charges.

However, Dr Cholnan now plans to increase this to ten pills while those found in possession will no longer be imprisoned. Instead, they will be sent to drug rehabilitation centres as part of a new government policy.

Debate on cannabis in Thailand becomes divisive

The debate on cannabis policy in Thailand has become more divisive, particularly after the government’s move to unlock marijuana in 2022.

A significant majority of the population support reversing the changes made in 2022 outright. At the same time, there is support for its cultivation and medical use.

Anutin Charnvirakul, when Minister of Public Health, played a pivotal role in this liberalisation, culminating in the legal predicament that ‘all parts of marijuana’ were effectively legalised. In effect, this undercut law enforcement and forced the Royal Thai Police to withdraw.

Democrat MPs challenge cannabis free for all linking it with a highly damaging drug culture
Drugs to be an election issue as Anutin digs in insisting that attitudes must change on cannabis
Cannabis revolution targeted as MPs and public confront the Bhumjaithai Party’s populist gambit on pot

However, the current uncertainties and controversies around cannabis policy indicate a shift towards regulation and control.

 The rejection of the Bhumjaithai Party’s proposed Marijuana and Hemp Act with 94 sections in parliament in 2022 was significant. Driven by public opinion, in short, it highlighted the evolving nature of cannabis policy in Thailand.

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Further reading:

Marijuana industry faces disaster as Health Minister unveils law to outlaw recreational pot use in Thailand

Potent pot to be criminalised as the minister looks at ways to suppress recreational cannabis use

Two deaths linked with cannabis use and violent incidents reported in recent days by Thai police

Go easy on the growing cannabis industry says Anutin who concedes that Pita will be the next PM

Thai Marijuana tycoons ponder mixed messaging from the Move Forward-led coalition on the drug

Crackdown on crime wave against Chinese tourists in Bangkok as concerns also raised on cannabis

Dispirited Prayut exits stage left after Chuwit addressed him by megaphone on new liberal cannabis policy

Cannabis revolution targeted as MPs and public confront the Bhumjaithai Party’s populist gambit on pot

Emergency Room admissions for cannabis up 566% as parties call for it to again be criminalised

Drugs to be an election issue as Anutin digs in insisting that attitudes must change on cannabis

Recreational cannabis use can be legalised under the current law being passed through parliament

Recreational use of pot to be recriminalised as Minister warns abuses are undermining his plan

Warnings as fears grow over recreational cannabis use as Thai man is left impotent by self-harm act

Cannabis remains illegal as ministers push through a law controlling its use by the public after decriminilisation