Cholnan Srikaew, the health minister of Thailand, said on Thursday that recreational marijuana will be banned by the end of 2024. Thailand was the first Southeast Asian country to legalize medical marijuana in 2018, followed by recreational use in 2022.
Cholnan said in an interview with Reuters that a draft of the marijuana ban will be submitted to the Cabinet for approval in March, and should pass Parliament by the end of the year.
The bill will not ban the medical use of cannabis, or cultivating it for medical purposes. “In the new law, cannabis will be a controlled plant, so growing it would require permission,” Cholnan explained.
The health minister said recreational marijuana should be banned because “the misuse of cannabis has a negative impact on Thai children,” and “in the long run, it could lead to other drugs.”
“Without the law to regulate cannabis, it will be misused,” he said. “We drafted this law to prohibit the wrong usage of cannabis. All recreational usage is wrong.”
Recreational marijuana has grown into a billion-dollar industry in Thailand over the past two years, with thousands of shops catering to users, especially in tourist areas. Cholnan said the government will give shops time to adjust to the new rules and convert to licensed medical marijuana clinics if they wish to stay in business.
The draft law sets stiff penalties of roughly $1,700 for recreational use, and $2,800 plus up to a year in jail for unauthorized sales. Cholnan said the law will “discourage” people from growing marijuana at home, but did not go into details on how vigorously they would be discouraged.
Prior to legalization, Thailand had some of the strictest drug laws in the world, and some of the harshest punishments for violating them – including lengthy stays in the infamous “Bangkok Hilton,” the hideous Bang Kwang Central Prison.
Thailand seems to have regretted legalizing recreational marijuana almost immediately. The first volley of regulations restricting personal use was scribbled literally a week after legalization went into effect in June 2022, prompted by a rash of hospitalizations and at least one reported death from drug abuse.
Thai officials were stunned by how quickly recreational cannabis shops and cafes appeared and how much weed they moved in those early days. The first round of panicked regulatory corrections included laws that forbid smoking marijuana in public, bringing it to school, or selling it to pregnant women or people under 20 years of age. Cannabis vendors were required to educate customers on the potential dangers of using their products. Marijuana smoke was classified as an actionable public nuisance.
None of these measures satisfied opponents of recreational marijuana, who pushed for more restrictions in the May 2023 national elections. The new prime minister, Srettha Thavisin, quickly moved to fulfill campaign promises to ban recreational use of the drug.
Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul was formerly health minister when Thailand’s military government legalized recreational cannabis. Anutin had promised the drug would still be used primarily for medicinal purposes but was foremost among the politicians who were astounded by the explosion of marijuana shops and embarrassed by the surge of drug-related violence and illness. The party Anutin leads, Bhumjaithai, joined almost every other party in promising to outlaw recreational cannabis during the 2023 election campaign.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported in early February that the last straw for recreational marijuana in Thailand might have been a Coldplay concert that drew scores of complaints on social media because of the heavy pot smell hanging over the venue.