Thailand makes cannabis partially legal but discourages public smoking of weed

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Subel Rai Bhandari
2022.06.09
Bangkok
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Thailand makes cannabis partially legal but discourages public smoking of weed
[Suntorn Chongcharoen/BenarNews]

Thailand partially decriminalized cannabis as of Thursday, allowing users to possess, consume and grow low-potency plants, but it discouraged smoking the weed in public by attaching a hefty fine and jail sentence for those who are a nuisance while lighting up.

The government said it is still illegal to grow, possess and consume cannabis products containing more than 0.2 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary compound that makes people high. 

On Wednesday, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told parliament that cannabis had been used “according to Thai wisdom for more than 300 years.”

“This is a historic day for all lawmakers to collectively liberalize ganja, our ancient Thai medical herb, and make it legitimate,” he said, referring to cannabis by its local name. In May, he had said he would give away a million cannabis plants to households across the nations, starting this Friday.

“In the recent past, some were arrested and prosecuted for boiling hemp oil and drinking it as a remedy for their pain. Some were prosecuted for handing out cannabis to treat others’ ailments,” Anutin said, adding they would no longer be guilty of those acts.

The Corrections Department said that more than 3,000 inmates charged or convicted for cannabis-related offenses were released on Thursday. The Office of Judiciary also said it would drop most of the related trials and detentions.

A police officer said that while there was no law against smoking ganja, it could be considered a public nuisance.

“Smokers who disturb other people in public can be jailed for up to three months and fined up to 25,000 baht [U.S. $723.53] for breaching the Public Health Act,” said Police Gen. Roy Ingkapairote, deputy chief of the National Police Bureau.

Another police officer said they would not be able to arrest anyone only for possessing cannabis, from Thursday onwards.

“Ganja is no longer narcotic, except for its extracts. One can possess, consume, and trade ganja as it is delisted,” said Lt. Gen. Sarayuth Sanguanpokai, commander of the Narcotics Suppression Bureau. 

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A woman walks near cannabis products at a supermarket in Bangkok, May 20, 2022. [Subel Rai Bhandari/BenarNews]

‘Raise Thai farmers’ income’

According to Anutin, the health minister, the partial legalization of cannabis represents a “huge opportunity … for Thai farmers and entrepreneurs who now have access to the world’s cannabis market.” 

The global market for cannabis will be 3.5 trillion baht ($101 billion) by 2024, he said, while the Thai medical market in 2021 was 7.2 billion baht. 

Cannabis is regarded as a high-profit cash crop. Advocates say the partial decriminalization would help villagers reap benefits from the burgeoning cannabis industry, since most of the farmers in Thailand own relatively small plots of land.

“Strong global demand for cannabis will help raise Thai farmers’ income and narrow inequality in the agricultural sector,” Sanan Angubolkul, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, told the Bangkok Post this week.

Cannabis was criminalized in Thailand in 1935 and classed as Category 5 drug in 1979, with up to 15 years in jail and a 1.5 million baht fine. In 2018, the Thai government approved the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Last year, the government approved its use in food and drinks. Many restaurants and cafes have since started serving drinks and food made with cannabis.

Thursday’s relaxation also holds promise for Thailand’s tourism-dependent economy, which was decimated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with travel agencies already starting cannabis-focused wellness tours.

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A bicyclist holds a cookie jar during World Marijuana Day festivities on Khaosan Road in Bangkok, April 20, 2022. [Suntorn Chongcharoen/BenarNews]

Marijuana aficionado Vicky, 30, said he smoked weed for more than a decade before starting to grow and sell it illegally six years ago. He sells marijuana for 300-650 baht ($8.70-19) per gram and is now “considering cannabis farming full time.” 

“When legalized, the cultivation cost and marijuana prices should drop, but I am yet to see what is allowed by law and what is not,” said Vicky, who refused to give his last name due to privacy concerns. 

One cannabis user, who said he voted for the Bhumjaithai Party in the last election due to its support for legalizing weed, spoke to BenarNews days before the partial decriminalization kicked in. He claimed that he once had to pay a 7,500 baht ($217) bribe to the police after he was arrested for possession.

“But after June 9, no need to fear,” he told BenarNews on the condition of anonymity as he feared retribution for his views. “I won’t smoke in public though, and have to see what the laws say.” 

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Anutin introduced a new draft Cannabis-Hemp Act to control abuses to do with the consumption of cannabis. 

The draft bill prohibits the sale of cannabis to pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and people under 20.

Thai lawmakers passed the first reading and sent it to a 25-member parliamentary committee, which will study it for a few weeks before introducing it to the Lower House. A final vote could be several months away. 

“I’ve heard concerns on consuming and smoking ganja in public, as well as on over-consumption. Those are not in line with the government’s policy,” Anutin told parliament.

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A man smokes a joint during World Marijuana Day celebrations on Khaosan Road in Bangkok, April 20, 2022. [Suntorn Chongcharoen/BenarNews]

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