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Cannabis Industry Faces Clampdown in Thailand

Cannabis Industry Faces Clampdown in Thailand

Thailand’s two-year experiment with legal cannabis has come to an abrupt halt, as the government announced plans to ban the recreational use of the drug. The decision has sparked a heated debate among cannabis advocates, entrepreneurs, and public health authorities, who are divided on the best way to control the drug. The ban, which is expected to take effect soon, would punish individuals caught using cannabis for recreational purposes with a fine of 60,000 baht (approximately £1,300).

The Thai government’s decision to crack down on cannabis use comes in response to growing public concerns about the availability of the drug to children and its link to crime. According to Health Minister Chonlanan Srikaew, a draft Bill has been recommended to the Cabinet, which would prohibit the use of cannabis for entertainment purposes. However, medical marijuana would still be allowed, but the details of its regulation are still unclear.

Thailand was the first country in Asia to legalize cannabis, with the Bhumjaithai Party making it a major part of its campaign platform in the 2019 general election. The party’s leader, Anutin Charnvirakul, became the Health Minister and played a crucial role in pushing through the 2022 amendment to the Narcotics Law, which removed cannabis from the list of controlled drugs. However, in practice, the market remained nearly unregulated, allowing the easy availability of cannabis at many unlicensed establishments and online.

Despite regulations requiring a license for planting or selling cannabis, banning online sales, and restricting sales to pregnant women and people under 20, cannabis can still be purchased easily. Many unlicensed establishments and online shops operate unchecked, fuelling concerns about the drug’s link to crime and public health issues. The Health Ministry has reported a surge in people seeking treatment for cannabis-related psychological issues, with over 63,000 patients in 2023 compared to 37,000 in 2022.

Cannabis Industry Faces Clampdown in Thailand

Cannabis advocates and entrepreneurs have opposed the ban, arguing that it would be impractical or even impossible to ban the drug given its widespread use and the industry’s significant growth. Chokwan “Kitty” Chopaka, a cannabis shop owner and activist, said that the problems associated with cannabis use are due to lax enforcement of existing regulations. Rattapon Sanrak, the founder of Thailand’s first legal cannabis shop, called for more discussion on the best way to control the drug, emphasizing the need to find a common ground between those who want to see cannabis banned and those who operate businesses in the industry.

The debate surrounding cannabis use in Thailand highlights the challenges of finding a balance between legality, regulation, and public health concerns. The government’s move to ban recreational cannabis use is a significant shift in its stance on the drug, and it remains to be seen how the industry will adapt to the new regulations. The ban is expected to have far-reaching consequences for the estimated 10,000 people employed in the cannabis industry, who rely on the drug’s legal status to make a living.

As the country weighs the pros and cons of banning recreational cannabis use, it is clear that the debate is far from over. The government will need to carefully consider the impact of the ban on public health, the economy, and the livelihoods of those employed in the industry. Ultimately, the balance between legalization, regulation, and public health concerns will require a delicate and nuanced approach.

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