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What are the key features of Thailand's cannabis industry?

Tan KW
Publish date: Thu, 29 Feb 2024, 03:54 PM
Tan KW
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BANGKOK: Just two years after Thailand became the first Southeast Asian country to decriminalise cannabis in 2022, it now plans to ban recreational use of the drug, creating uncertainty for the public, tourists, and a burgeoning industry.

Here are details of the cannabis sector:

IS CANNABIS COMMON IN THAILAND?

Thailand has a long history of using cannabis in traditional medicine to relieve pain and fatigue. Cannabis also appeared in old cooking recipes before it was criminalised in the 1930s.

WHO INVESTS IN CANNABIS?

In 2018, the government legalised marijuana for medical use and research to boost farm incomes. Companies poured money into the cannabis craze after hemp, a cannabis variant, and cannabidiol (CBD), a compound that doesn't create a "high", were legalised.

Consumer goods firms rushed to offer CBD-based products including toothpaste, cosmetics and drinks. Power companies found land to grow and supply hemp.

Agriculture giants, such as CP Foods, also showed interest while shares of companies announcing cannabis ventures soared.

The government cannabis app PlookGanja shows 1.1 million people had registered by November last year to grow cannabis.

WHAT ABOUT RECREATIONAL USE?

Recreational use surged overnight after cannabis was dropped from the narcotics list in June 2022. Cannabis dispensaries sprang up around Bangkok, the capital, and tourist destinations, such as Phuket and Chiang Mai.

Authorities scrambled to rein in recreational use with public nuisance laws and rules to prevent sales near schools and to minors and pregnant women, but use persisted.

The government emphasised that its policy was only to support medical marijuana, but its incremental rules aimed at reducing recreational use were not effective.

Cannabis gave the key tourism sector a boost with visitors enjoying cannabis cafes in Bangkok's backpacker district of Khao San.

UNCERTAINTY AFTER ELECTIONS

Recreational use of cannabis became an issue in the 2023 elections, with many parties campaigning against it.

In August 2023, the Pheu Thai party formed a government, with a pledge to end recreational use.

In 2024, Public Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew said all recreational use was wrong and a new bill banning casual use was in the works.

A draft bill prohibits marketing and advertising of cannabis with tougher jail terms for those growing the crop without a permit. However, there is still no clarity on the future of the thousands of dispensaries, clinics and cafes.

Advocates say it is impossible to reverse course and that sales and recreational use are here to stay.

 - Reuters

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