Thailand, the first Asian nation to decriminalize cannabis a year ago, now appears to be having second thoughts, suspecting an unregulated consumption landscape. These concerns have prompted Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin to propose limiting cannabis use to medical purposes only.
This potential limitation has put a question mark over the numerous weed shops operating nationwide, possibly hampering the flourishing cannabis culture. In light of this, more than 2.4 million Malaysian tourists, who made the choice of venturing to Thailand this year, are having their cannabis-friendly holiday experiences threatened.
For Malaysian cannabis enthusiasts, Thailand’s broad-minded approach towards the herb is a charm that attracts them to the Kingdom. Opting for car journeys across the border or flights to popular Thai destinations like Bangkok or Phuket, they enjoy the availability of high-grade weed, a stark contrast to their home country where possession of cannabis is punishable by long-term imprisonment or even a possible death sentence in case of drug trafficking.
Despite stern penalties linked to drug offenses in Malaysia, cannabis consumption is widespread. In addition to regular weed, homemade cannabis-infused edibles can be easily found. Medical marijuana, though, remains banned, with authorities doling out punishments to individuals using the substance as a treatment.
A potential U-turn on Thailand’s cannabis laws could dismantle the ongoing shift in Asian perspectives on recreational and medicinal use of the drug, argues 25-year-old cannabis user, “Anna” (name changed due to Malaysia’s draconian drug laws).
A prohibition on the recreational use of cannabis in Thailand would weaken advocacy efforts across Malaysia and beyond, providing fodder for critics. Despite this, last year, inspired by Thailand’s decriminalization of cannabis, the Malaysian government approved a study on the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes.
A change in the political sphere with Khairy Jamaluddin’s loss in the November 2022 general election, however, has stalled this feasibility study, and Malaysia’s new government has yet to indicate any willingness to revisit the topic.
On the Thai front, the debate over cannabis decriminalization heated up in the election season. Prime Minister Srettha’s Pheu Thai Party pledged to reset the policy, while its Bhumjaithai Party ally talked about submitting a proposal to tighten surveillance over the cannabis industry. Furthermore, the Thai leader expressed his opposition to the recreational use of cannabis in an interview recently.
For Malaysia, any potential recant in Thailand’s cannabis policy would be seen as a positive shift, given their long-standing battle against drug trafficking across the loosely controlled border between the two nations. One particular concern is the possibility of Malaysians getting addicted to cannabis.
On a more optimistic note, many Malaysians applaud Thailand’s more open approach to Kratom use, another plant-based substance that produces stimulating effects but is classified as a narcotic in Malaysia, despite its growing international market.
Most importantly, Malaysian cannabis enthusiasts are voicing their discontent over the idea of recriminalizing cannabis. They argue how the current liberal policy has been instrumental in transforming Thai holiday spots into more relaxed and inviting destinations.
Thailand’s cannabis-friendly tourism equips visitors with easy access to high-quality cannabis from roadside stalls or established dispensaries at reasonable prices. And coupled with the cheaper airfare – a mere $60 one-way from Kuala Lumpur – a cannabis-infused Thai experience is a magnet for Malaysia’s cannabis community.
However, a change in Thailand’s cannabis policy could disrupt this tranquil image, bringing about an unwelcome change for the eager Malaysian visitors keen to indulge in cannabis-friendly relaxation across the border.