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Are Weed / Cannabis / Marijuana Still Legal in Thailand? What Tourists Need to Know Amid Government Reversal Plans

On Thursday, May 16, pro – cannabis / weed advocates gathered at Thailand’s health ministry to protest the government’s proposal to relist cannabis as a narcotic. This move comes two years after the plant was decriminalised.

The protest followed a statement by Prime Minister of Thailand Srettha Thavisin, who announced earlier this month his intention to reverse the legalisation by the end of the year.

Thailand became the first country in Asia to decriminalise cannabis in 2022, primarily for medical purposes. However, the market has since appeared virtually unregulated, sparking public backlash and concerns over misuse and crime.

Neon weed signs have become ubiquitous in Bangkok’s bustling tourist areas, with dispensaries cropping up on every corner. Hundreds of food and drink vendors now offer cannabis-infused menus.

However, this landscape could dramatically change under the Prime Minister’s proposals to strictly regulate marijuana use and restrict it solely for medicinal purposes.

Why Are Thailand’s Cannabis Rules Changing So Soon?

Following last May’s general election, Thailand has been under new leadership since September. The conservative coalition government, led by the Pheu Thai Party, is advocating for a crackdown on cannabis due to its poor regulation since legalisation.

Pheu Thai campaigned on banning the recreational use of marijuana, citing health risks and potential substance abuse issues among young people. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin reiterated this stance in a recent post on X, stating, “Drugs are a problem that destroys the future of the nation.”

Anutin Charnvirakul, the former Health Minister who oversaw the legalisation of cannabis under the previous military-run government, has now risen to the position of Deputy Prime Minister. He is the leader of the Bhumjaithai Party, which is part of the new government coalition.

When advocating for marijuana legalization in 2022, he argued it would ease prison overcrowding and boost the rural economy.

On the day of legalization, over 3,000 inmates held on cannabis charges were released. Within a year, Thailand’s weed industry was valued at 28 billion Thai baht (€728 million), with projections reaching 336 billion baht (€8.7 billion) by 2030.

Anutin had assured that cannabis would be restricted to medical use, but the market remained largely unregulated.

The Health Ministry issued regulations making cannabis a ‘controlled herb,’ requiring licenses for cultivation and sales, and banning online sales, sales to pregnant women and those under 20, and public smoking. However, cannabis is easily accessible at many unlicensed establishments and online.

Since legalization, over 1.1 million Thais have registered for licenses to grow cannabis, and more than 6,000 dispensaries have emerged, many with minimal quality control.

Reports of drug-fueled violence and abuse, including among youth, who were not supposed to access the drug, soon surfaced in Thai media.

The Health Ministry reported a rise in cannabis-related psychological issues, from over 37,000 patients in 2022 to more than 63,000 in 2023. Other studies indicated increased youth usage.

As the first Asian country to legalize cannabis, Thailand also saw a surge in weed tourism, which many fear will be hard to control.

In the 2023 election campaign, all major parties, including Bhumjaithai, pledged to restrict cannabis to medical use.

Protesters on Thursday agreed on the need for proper regulation but argued that rescheduling cannabis as a narcotic would negatively impact those invested in the burgeoning industry.

What Is the Punishment for Cannabis Use in Thailand?

Before cannabis was legalized in June 2022, Thailand had some of the world’s harshest drug laws. Possession of cannabis could result in up to 15 years in prison, with the infamous Bang Kwang Central Prison—nicknamed the Bangkok Hilton after an Australian TV series depicted its squalid, overcrowded conditions—serving as a major deterrent for tourists.

In March, Health Minister Chonlanan Srikaew recommended a draft bill to the Cabinet to ban the recreational use of marijuana and reclassify it as a controlled substance. This bill is expected to be approved soon and will then be submitted to Thailand’s House of Representatives.

The draft law, circulated for public comment in January, proposes fines of up to 60,000 Thai baht (€1,560) for recreational use (defined as ‘entertainment or pleasure’) and prison sentences of up to a year. Medical marijuana would be allowed, though the specifics of its regulation are not detailed.

The bill also proposes fines of up to 100,000 baht (€2,600) for advertising or marketing cannabis for recreational use. Farming without a license could result in a one- to three-year prison sentence or fines ranging from 20,000 to 300,000 baht (€520 to €7,780).

The regulations for cannabis shops and home growing remain unclear.

Can Tourists Still Smoke Weed in Thailand?

While Thailand awaits the outcome of these changes, weed shops remain open across Bangkok and beyond. However, some restrictions are already in place. Smoking or vaping in public places is prohibited, and causing a ‘public nuisance’—including through the smell of weed—can lead to a 25,000 baht (€650) fine. The definition of a ‘nuisance’ is vague and can be exploited by police. In Bangkok, officers have been known to blackmail and extort tourists who fall afoul of the law.

Extracts containing more than 0.2 percent THC are still classified as narcotics, but some shops sell stronger products regardless, which could land purchasers in trouble unless they have official permission for medical use.

Tourists are also warned that cannabis remains illegal in neighboring countries and must not be transported across borders. Singapore, known for its stringent drug policies, can arrest citizens for using drugs abroad as if they had consumed them at home.

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