A year ago, Wassaya Iemvijan, an erstwhile lawyer, didn’t envision herself as proprietor of a cannabis dispensary. Based in Bangkok, Iemvijan found solace in the plant, employing it as an alternative route to alleviate stress and manage her mental health. 

“When faced with depression for countless years, cannabis became my support system,” she candidly shares. “So, when the laws relaxed, the idea of establishing a shop became, quite naturally, an appealing thought.”

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The landmark date of June 9, 2022 marked Thailand’s foray into the world of decriminalized cannabis, a pioneering step for the Southeast Asian nation. Consequently, Iemvijan, along with her spouse and fellow lawyer, Nitikrist Attakrist, secured authorization to cultivate and trade the plant.

In an environment replete with stress, the husband-wife duo never initially dreamed of inaugurating a cannabis outlet. However, their establishment not only blossomed into a successful venture, but evolved as an educational platform, shedding light on the benefits and responsibilities attached with cannabis use.

The decriminalization instigated a cannabis revolution in Thailand, dotted with dispensaries spread throughout the country. While it was always possible to lay hands on cannabis in the past, doing so was fraught with risk due to the country’s stringent legal system.

Thailand, home to the infamous Golden Triangle, is renowned as one of the world’s strongest drug production centres. Cannabis legalization, however, metamorphosed the landscape, transforming the country into a haven for visitors who could indulge in the distinctive scent of marijuana, alongside the tantalizing aromas of Thai street food. In fact, cities such as Chiang Mai even went a step ahead and hosted cannabis festivals.

But, this cannabis utopia is facing an imminent threat of change. A conservative coalition government took charge following the elections in 2023, casting clouds of uncertainty on the country’s cannabis laws. 

Tentatively, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin declared that within six months, the government plans to “rectify” cannabis laws. Thus, its use may be constrained exclusively for medicinal purposes.

Such a scenario emerges from an alarming rise in drug-related issues, particularly in Thailand’s northeastern and northern regions. Thus, the Prime Minister foresees the new cannabis regulations as an effort to streamline drug usage, allowing consumption for medicinal purposes only.

This seismic policy shift places companies like Iemvijan and Attakrist’s, and countless other cannabis enterprises, in a precarious position. The couple staunchly opposes this manoeuvre as it threatens to undermine the industry’s tremendous growth.

Understandably, Attakrist avers, “Cannabis has offered Thais a lifeline – from agriculture to small businesses, to retail operations. Any policy reversal can have disastrous effects, causing unprecedented harm to the industry.”

The legal leniency that was granted to cannabis in 2022 was an extension of medicinal marijuana approval in 2018. This shift in law annulled the criminal status associated with the growth and commerce of marijuana and hemp products. Furthermore, the use of plant parts for treating illnesses was also emancipated.

Under the newly minted law, businesses like cafes and eateries started featuring cannabis-inspired menus, ensuring their offerings had a THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) concentration lower than 0.2%, the plant’s chief psychoactive element. Despite the progress, the law barred public smoking of cannabis, retaining strict penalties for offenders.

Many feel that the law’s ambiguity and lack of clarity have fuelled a surge in recreational smoking. Business owners, however, argue that any attempted regulatory reversal at this stage is futile. Ley Singdam, proprietor of a Phuket based cannabis shop, asserts, “The government’s belief that revamping the drug law will curb usage is misguided.”

In a world where most Asian countries have stringent drug regulations with some states like Singapore and Indonesia enforcing capital punishment in serious drug-related crimes, Thailand’s lenient legal framework is an anomaly. Moreover, with mounting evidence indicating the lack of effectiveness of prohibition policies and the collateral damage caused by such bans, experts fear a regress to such policies could severely impact the burgeoning cannabis industry in Thailand.

Only time will reveal the impacts of the policy changes proposed by Prime Minister Thavisin and his coalition Government. The legacies of migration from traditional farming crops to cannabis cultivation and the economic benefits resulted from this transition are at stake. As Thailand stands at a crossroads for its cannabis regulations, the industry is anxiously watching for the future that unfolds.

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

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