Home Health & Wellness Thailand’s Prime Minister Announces Plans to Recriminalise Cannabis in a Major Policy U-Turn

Thailand’s Prime Minister Announces Plans to Recriminalise Cannabis in a Major Policy U-Turn

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In a significant reversal of policy, Thailand’s Prime Minister, Srettha Thavisin, announced plans to reinstate cannabis as a narcotic, just two years after the country became one of the first in Asia to decriminalise its recreational use. This decision marks a stark departure from the previous government’s stance, which had liberalised cannabis under the guise of economic benefit and medical utility.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin took to the social media platform X on Wednesday to voice his concerns about the current cannabis policies. “I want the health ministry to amend the rules and re-list cannabis as a narcotic,” he stated, emphasising a shift towards permitting cannabis exclusively for “health and medical purposes.”

The rapid decriminalisation of cannabis had seen a domestic retail sector burgeon, with tens of thousands of shops and businesses emerging, contributing to an industry projected to be worth up to $1.2 billion by 2025. However, the prime minister’s new directive reflects a growing unease with the unregulated market and its accessibility, particularly among youth, and its linkage to crime.

The announcement followed a comprehensive meeting with narcotics suppression agencies, where Srettha committed to a rigorous crackdown on drugs. “Drugs are a problem that destroys the future of the country; many young people are addicted. We have to work fast, to confiscate assets (of drug dealers) and expand treatment,” he added, illustrating his tough stance on drug enforcement. In line with this, he also proposed a redefinition of drug possession laws, reducing the threshold from a “small amount” to “one pill” to facilitate more robust legal actions.

This decision, however, has been met with significant resistance from various stakeholders within the cannabis industry. Prasitchai Nunual, secretary-general of Thailand’s Cannabis Future Network, criticised the move, suggesting it would detrimentally impact the economy and small businesses. “Many people have been growing cannabis and opening cannabis shops. These will have to close down,” he told Reuters, highlighting the potential economic fallout. He further argued that if scientific results demonstrated that cannabis was more harmful than alcohol and cigarettes, only then should it be listed as a narcotic again.

Initially, when cannabis was decriminalised in 2018 for medical use and later in 2022 for recreational purposes, the policy was hailed as progressive, with the Bhumjaithai Party – predominantly supported in Thailand’s impoverished northeast – promoting cannabis as a new cash crop. But this liberalisation has since been criticised for being hastily executed without sufficient regulatory frameworks, leading to widespread confusion and unintended consequences.

In the 2023 elections, all major parties, including the Bhumjaithai, pledged to confine cannabis usage strictly to medical purposes, reflecting a broader political consensus on tightening regulations. Despite these promises, the market has remained largely unregulated, exacerbating public concerns over misuse and associated crimes.

Moreover, Thailand’s role as a key transit country for other narcotics like opium and methamphetamine from Myanmar complicates its drug policy landscape. The kingdom, notorious for its previously stringent drug laws, had looked to capitalise on the burgeoning global market for medical marijuana. Yet, as Srettha’s administration has made clear, the overarching priority remains the rigorous control of drug-related activities to prevent broader societal harm.

As the government presses forward with its plans to recriminalise cannabis, it remains to be seen how this will affect the numerous legal dispensaries that have proliferated following the drug’s decriminalisation. The health ministry has signalled its intention to expedite the reclassification process, though specific details and timelines remain vague.

The pivot in policy serves as a reminder of the complex balance governments must navigate between progressive drug laws aimed at economic gains and the imperative to safeguard public health and security. As Thailand reevaluates its stance on cannabis, the international community and local stakeholders alike will be watching closely, evaluating the impacts of this policy shift on Thailand’s social, economic, and legal landscape.

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