Countries across the globe are taking a more proactive and positive stance on legalizing or decriminalizing cannabis use and possession. Several states in the U.S. have legalized cannabis consumption, and the U.S. is now considering rescheduling the substance at the federal level. Meanwhile, Germany has taken baby steps to legalize cannabis, while other countries like Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Malta look to do the same. Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean are also making headway regarding marijuana reform.
For all the progress and forward momentum in the cannabis industry, some countries are now pulling back on efforts to legalize and decriminalize the substance. After becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to decriminalize cannabis, the new prime minister of Thailand is looking to rein in the exploding cannabis industry in the country. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin wants to rewrite Thai laws, restricting cannabis use and tightening control on the substance in a country that has seen revised weed laws draw tourists and locals in by the thousands.
Thailand’s Weed History
Only one year ago, Thailand became the first country in Southeast Asia to decriminalize cannabis. It was a move that spawned the pop-up of thousands of cannabis shops nationwide, ushering in a new era of cannabis tourism in Asia. Tourists from across the globe, especially from other Asian countries, flocked to Thailand in search of marijuana products, curious to explore cannabis culture. Where several nearby countries have outlawed cannabis, even enlisting the death penalty for some cannabis offenses, Thailand became an outlier and an even more popular tourist destination. In less than one year, it is estimated that there were nearly 12,000 registered cannabis dispensaries in the country.
However, Thailand has a complicated history with marijuana. Although the country decriminalized marijuana, the Thai legislature did not pass laws clarifying some potential legal grey areas. Medicinal drug sales are legal, yet there is confusion over recreational use, public consumption, and the ability of retailers to sell cannabis products to children. Illegal imports are also causing problems in the cannabis industry.
In the face of rampant oversupply and illegal imports, many cannabis retailers feel the crunch and have to shut their doors. Prices tumbled to a new low, reaching the U.S. equivalent of $22 per gram, meaning many shops can’t afford to stay in business or remain competitive in the cannabis marketplace.
Popular but rife with conflict and confusion, Thailand’s new prime minister is promising to step in and reform cannabis laws, saying the government will “rectify” drug policy.
What Will Thailand’s New Cannabis Policy Look Like?
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin says that the government must rewrite Thai laws. He says he supports regulated cannabis use for medical purposes only. Many cannabis advocates and successful retailers worry about what this stance means for the country. Srettha campaigned on a hardline anti-drug stance ahead of the May election. Throughout the election season, he routinely commented about undoing the landmark policy to decriminalize cannabis. He also says he wants to restrict cannabis use in the county overall but has not expanded on what that means or what a potential policy change might look like. While presiding over an event to destroy narcotics, the new prime minister also commented about “decisively” reducing the drug menace within a year.
Thavisin also added that while he only supports medicinal cannabis use, there can’t be a “middle ground for recreational use.”
Almost no one argues that there shouldn’t be more regulation over cannabis. However, achieving a peaceful symbiosis between the industry and the government stands on a razor’s edge. The president of the Phuket Cannabis Association says that more regulation is welcome and that there shouldn’t be a free-for-all approach to the cannabis marketplace. He believes that regulation protects producers, legitimate cultivators, and retailers. However, reclassifying cannabis as a narcotic pushes the drug back underground and promotes dangerous activities.
Tighter monitoring and cannabis regulation could benefit those operating legitimate businesses and farmers registered with the nation’s Food and Drug Administration. Reducing illegal and unbridled cannabis imports strengthens the domestic products produced by hard-working local cultivators. It could also trigger price increases and a bounce back for the retail cannabis industry, allowing retailers to turn a profit and keep storefronts open for business.
However, for many, it remains unclear what the new government’s intentions are regarding cannabis. While draft laws indicate the government plans to rein in misbehavior, there seems to be no policy concerning recreational use.
Inevitable Cannabis Shutdown?
There is uncertainty over the future of Thailand’s cannabis industry. For some, it seems inevitable that the new government plans to crack down on drug use and may seek to dismantle the entire cannabis industry in the country, only allowing medicinal cannabis retailers to remain functioning. However, some cannabis industry investors don’t seem frightened by the new regime, saying you can’t feasibly put the genie back in the bottle.
One company, Siam Green, plans to open three or four more cannabis dispensaries in the country this year. Instead of shrinking their profile, they are expanding it and plan on spending an additional $5 million on farming and retail outlets. An Israeli cannabis company recently opened a $3 million indoor cannabis farm in Bangkok and calls itself a significant, long-term player in the Thai cannabis market. Cannabis entrepreneurs hope the Thai government will never go so far as to destroy an industry with such significant economic potential.
Some estimate that at the end of 2022, the Thai cannabis market was worth nearly $800 million or 28 billion baht. The industry may grow to at least $31.8 billion baht in 2023. That’s not counting the amount of money cannabis tourism brings as people flock to the country for food, drink, and recreation as they explore Thailand’s rich cannabis culture.
How far will the Thai government and the new prime minister go to weed out marijuana and regain control over drug policy in the country? The answer is hazy.