For those readers resident in Asia, and particularly Thailand, recent Thai legislation could be important.
Just over a month ago, on 9th June, and after years of arguably draconian anti-drug laws, Thailand legalised the cultivation and possession of marijuana. At the same time, some 3,071 prisoners, previously convicted of cannabis possession, cultivation or dealing, were released from their often-lengthy prison sentences.
However, the new laws come with regulations and exceptions that could put a damper on the idea of the country as a cannabis haven.
The Thai Food and Drug Administration officially removed marijuana and hemp from its Category 5 narcotics list, making Thailand the first country in Asia to decriminalise marijuana.
However, the country has not legalised recreational marijuana, and the Thai government is setting limits around the new policies.
The new cannabis laws were created with medical, economic and health-related objectives in mind, according to a post on the Thai government’s official Facebook page.
Cannabis has been on Thailand’s political agenda for several years. Back in 2018, Thailand approved the use of medical marijuana.
Then, in May, Thailand’s health minister announced that the Thai government would distribute 1 million cannabis seedlings to Thai households once cannabis was legalised.
So what does this mean? Will it be a weed wonderland like Amsterdam? Probably not.
You can grow and trade marijuana and hemp products once registered on the government app. However, Health Minister Anutin warns that those who are caught using the drug in “nonproductive ways,” such as smoking joints, will still be met with harsh penalties, and could face up to three months behind bars and a fine of more than 25,000 Thai Baht ($700).
“We have always emphasised using cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical purposes and for health,” Anutin said. “There has never once been a moment that we would think about advocating people to use cannabis in terms of recreation, or use it in a way that it could irritate others.”
However, the Bangkok police, even the boys based at the infamous Thong Lo station, said they will not be nicking anybody for cannabis any time soon.
Regardless of the official line, the changes in practice are likely to create substantial gray areas. A Health Ministry official said that nearly 100,000 people had already registered on the new government app called PlookGanja, to grow marijuana legally.
There appears to be limited inclination to actively monitor what people are growing and smoking for their own use.
The removal of marijuana and hemp from the Category 5 narcotics list, allows cafes and restaurants to serve cannabis-infused food and drinks that have no more than 0.2 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s main psychoactive compound.
Places like Highland Cafe, in Bangkok, were previously limited to only selling products made from parts of the cannabis plant that do not get people high, but with new June 9th rules and regulations in place, the cafe has started selling marijuana, listing varieties such as Sugarcane, Bubblegum, Purple Afghani and UFO.
While the medical marijuana policies for tourists are still vague, some of the information that has been released seems encouraging.
Both Thais and foreigners will have the opportunity to be treated with medical marijuana,” Marut Jirasrattasiri, director general of the Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine, said in an interview.
“Thailand is metering out the legalisation road map, and really doing an interesting, strategic job and guiding it toward wellness and medical,” Brian Applegarth, the founder of Cannabis Travel Association International, told The Post. “With these new laws being announced — which is essentially decriminalising cultivation and possession — it’s just another baby step in the right direction,” he added.
But you are not allowed to use marijuana recreationally
If you’re planning on lighting up a joint in the park, Thailand isn’t the destination for you. As previously mentioned, people who smoke pot in public in Thailand will be subject to a potential three-month jail sentence and a fine of more than THB25,000 ($700).
People who are “investigating cannabis for its medicinal benefits or exploring business opportunities are being welcomed,” Jackson-Fitzgerald said. “But I would caution purely recreational tourists to hold off before putting Thailand on their trip list.”
Ultimately, the cannabis-related stipulations might confuse tourists who want to partake. A representative for the Tourism Authority of Thailand did not immediately respond to a request for comment on guidance for visitors who want to consume cannabis.
“When cannabis consumers are making their decisions about where to vacation, it’s important that they take the time to actually understand the local laws so they don’t inadvertently end up doing something that could get them into trouble,” said Tom Angell, a cannabis reform expert who tracks marijuana legalisation for Marijuana Moment, a cannabis news site.
In Thailand, Angell said, “there does seem to be a fair bit of confusion about what the new policies do and don’t allow.”
Cannabis can only be grown and consumed for medical purposes or health promotion
Some pro-cannabis supporters say Thailand will become a ‘marijuana utopia, but in reality, cannabis can only be grown and consumed for medical purposes, and those who smoke it in public face heavy penalties.
What is legal and what remains illegal about marijuana in Thailand?
With the delisting of marijuana as a narcotic, farmers and individuals in Thailand can now grow medicinal pot. Cannabis can also be used for health promotion. Any Thai can grow a marijuana plant if they first tell the government they are doing so via the smartphone app.
Industrial and commercial marijuana growers, including companies, must obtain licenses from the Food and Drug Authority.
While the possession of marijuana is not considered illegal, using it as a party drug or for other recreational purposes remains prohibited. The same goes for smoking cannabis in public.
Can foreign tourists smoke marijuana in Thailand?
Yes and no. They can smoke it for medical or health promotion purposes. Any other use could land a tourist in prison.
Although some online media have touted Thailand as a new cannabis paradise, health minister Anutin Charnvirakul recently said that the country "will [only] promote cannabis policies for medical purposes" and has never advocated for its recreational use. He said, "We don't welcome you if you just come to this country for that purpose.”
There are also extraterritorial laws that tourists from some nations, like Japan, must obey, or face harsh legal consequences back home.
"Japanese nationals residing abroad, including those in Thailand, may be subject to the same penalties [as in Japan] if they cultivate, import, export, possess or transfer marijuana," the Japanese embassy in Bangkok announced last year, warning its nationals to avoid using marijuana anywhere in the world.
Why did Thailand decriminalise marijuana? Profit!
The Thai government sees marijuana as a new industry. The market value of the marijuana-related business is said to be 40 billion baht ($1.15 billion), which is expected to grow to 70 billion baht by 2024, according to the Thai Industrial Hemp Trade Association. The Global Cannabis Report says the legal market is currently worth $100 billion globally.
Given all the confusion, you may have some questions, like;-
So, I can smoke a joint to help me sleep, or relieve my back pain?
Yes, but not if you smoke it in a relaxed, recreational way.
As a gardener, can I grow my own cannabis plants?
Yes, but you need to register on the PlookGanja app, and you need a Thai ID number (so no).
Can I buy my cannabis freely in a shop?
Yes (but it is apparently expensive)
Can I then smoke it in a relaxed setting, say at home?
Yes, but if neighbours complain about the smell, it might be considered ‘non-productive’ or a nuisance, resulting in a fine of 25,000THB ($700) and 3 months’ gaol.
Am I legally permitted to possess weed?
Yes, but not at a party or with friends, as that might be recreational, and the law stipulates that you must not enjoy the experience.
As a tourist visitor to Thailand, can I smoke a joint?
Yes, if it is for medical reasons. If you arrived in Thailand to enjoy your holiday, including a bit of pot, then no.
Having considered all the nuances of Thailand’s new cannabis laws, I feel more than a little light-headed, almost as if I don’t care anymore. My cold beer is looking very attractive, and my backache is forgotten.
Maybe I can manage without the ganja for a while longer!