Thailand Plans to Ban Recreational Cannabis Use by the End of the Year

Thailand is preparing to ban recreational cannabis use by the end of this year, according to the health minister, who said that the current legal gap has led to free and unregulated use of the drug. The country will seek to get a new cannabis bill, which will explicitly outlaw non-medical use of cannabis, approved by the lower house of parliament by the end of October, before the session ends. The bill will then be reviewed by the cabinet next month, the health minister said.

The new cannabis bill will aim to control cannabis, especially its buds, just as strictly as a drug, and will impose fines and penalties for those who smoke or use cannabis for recreation, as well as those who sell or distribute cannabis or its extracts for recreational purposes. The bill will also not allow localities to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses in their areas, unlike the current law.

The new cannabis bill will threaten to put thousands of cannabis shops and farms that have sprung up around the country since a decriminalization drive two years ago out of business. The bill will also contradict the global trend and public opinion, which are increasingly in favor of cannabis legalization.

A Decriminalization Drive that Led to a Legal Gap

Thailand became the first country in Asia to decriminalize cannabis in 2018, when it legalized cannabis for medical and research purposes. The country also allowed personal possession and cultivation of cannabis, which took effect in July 2021. However, the country failed to establish a clear and comprehensive regulatory framework for the cannabis industry, leaving a legal gap that many politicians said was fueling drug addiction and abuse.

The legal gap has led to a proliferation of cannabis shops and farms across the country, which sell and grow cannabis for both medical and recreational use. The shops and farms operate under various licenses and permits, such as community enterprise licenses, traditional medicine licenses, or hemp cultivation permits, which are not intended for recreational cannabis use. The shops and farms also sell and grow cannabis products that contain more than 0.2% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound that provides a “high” sensation, which is the legal limit for non-smoking products.

The legal gap has also led to confusion and inconsistency among the authorities and the public, who are not sure about the legality and safety of cannabis use and trade. The authorities have been cracking down on some cannabis shops and farms, while turning a blind eye to others. The public has been consuming cannabis products without knowing their quality, potency, or purity, or their health and social risks and benefits.

A Controversial and Complex Issue that Requires More Dialogue and Debate

The legalization of recreational cannabis use in Thailand is a controversial and complex issue, that involves various stakeholders and interests, such as the cannabis industry, the law enforcement, the public health, the social justice, and the revenue. The issue also reflects the political and ideological divide between the ruling coalition and the opposition parties, who have different views and agendas on the issue.

The supporters of legalization argue that it would create jobs, generate tax revenues, reduce the black market, and address the racial and social disparities caused by the prohibition of cannabis. They also point out that cannabis has various medical and therapeutic benefits, and that it is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, which are legal and widely consumed in the country.

The opponents of legalization argue that it would increase the consumption and abuse of cannabis, especially among the youth, and that it would pose public health and safety risks, such as impaired driving, addiction, and mental health problems. They also question the effectiveness and fairness of the decriminalization and medicalization of cannabis, and the impact of legalization on the international obligations and commitments of Thailand, which are bound by several treaties and conventions that prohibit the non-medical use of cannabis.

The outcome of the new cannabis bill in the parliament is uncertain, as it depends on various factors, such as the evidence and arguments presented by the stakeholders, the views and values of the lawmakers, the political and public support for the issue, and the feasibility and desirability of the policy change. However, some possible and probable scenarios are:

  • The bill passes the parliament and becomes law, and Thailand bans recreational cannabis use by the end of the year, and regulates the cannabis industry more strictly and comprehensively.
  • The bill fails to pass the parliament or is vetoed by the cabinet or the king, and Thailand maintains the status quo, and continues to face the legal gap and the challenges of the cannabis industry.
  • The bill is amended or postponed, and Thailand seeks more dialogue and debate on the issue, and explores other options and alternatives, such as decriminalizing or depenalizing cannabis use, expanding and enhancing the medical cannabis program, and increasing the prevention and treatment services for cannabis users.

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