Thailand’s newly elected Prime Minister has recently pledged to authorise cannabis use strictly for medicinal means, a statement that brought mixed reactions. This comes a year after Thailand took the groundbreaking step to decriminalise marijuana, becoming the first Asian country to do so. The proposed law concerning cannabis use and trade has been met with varied feedback concerning recreational use versus regulated industry growth. Amid these debates, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin voiced his staunch view at the United Nations General Assembly held in New York.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Thavisin stated, “For medical reasons only. We need the law. We need to rewrite. We agreed among all the 11 parties that this will be this government’s policy.” His words underscore the need for strict regulation of marijuana, providing an important counter-narrative to the overly relaxed legislation of recent years.

However, Srettha, who leads the governing Pheu Thai party and an 11-party coalition, stirred controversy with these statements. The promise of upcoming cannabis legislation created an atmosphere of uncertainty, with industry insiders voicing both support and concern.

The Center for Addiction Studies agreed with the Prime Minister’s stance, calling for a ban on recreational use of cannabis, according to The Bangkok Post. On the other hand, cannabis activists believe excessive regulation could hamper the burgeoning cannabis industry. 

Leading this wave of opposition is Kitty Chopaka, a cannabis proprietor based in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, operating a shop offering over 50 cannabis strains of varying potencies. She hopes that PM Srettha’s comments are hyperbolic rather than literal, expressing that the aim should be to curtail illegal cannabis trading.

Chopaka voiced her concerns, stating, “What I hope it meant was that he will get rid of all those places that don’t have any licenses or get rid of all illegal cannabis… coming in from over the borders. Rather than focusing on preying on the poor and starting a war on cannabis just as much as the war on drugs.”

Post the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes in 2018 and the decriminalisation of marijuana in 2022, Thailand has seen an exponential rise in cannabis trade and cultivation. Over a million people registered to cultivate cannabis and estimates suggested that the cannabis sector might be worth $1.2 billion by 2025. 

Yet, Jayne MacDougall, the executive director of the Phuket Hotels Association, believes that strict cannabis regulation will be a boon for Thailand’s tourism industry, reinforcing Thailand’s reputation as a wellness hub.

Despite these arguments, Highland Network founder and president, Rattapon Sanrak, warns that implementing more stringent cannabis laws could disrupt Thai livelihoods, sparking an increase in criminal activity.

Amid these contrasting opinions, the only certainty is that the future of cannabis in Thailand continues to hang in the balance. For now, advocates like Chopaka desire a change in how society perceives cannabis, imagining a future where it occupies a space between medicine and recreation, and hoping that a total ban does not jeopardize the livelihoods tied to this industry.

As a disclaimer, the opinions expressed in this article don’t reflect those of High Thailand.

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