Cannabis enthusiasts around the world rejoiced when Thailand, the first Southeast Asian country to decriminalize the drug, passed a law legalizing it in 2022. However, Thailand’s legalization journey hasn’t been all peaches and cream. Health experts are worried about the impact of legalizing cannabis, and farmers are being hard hit by illegal imports. The legal framework regarding the use of cannabis in the country is still unclear, despite the law legalizing it. Thousands of cannabis shops have opened around the country since the legalization, particularly in Bangkok and popular tourist spots, but legislation has failed to pass parliament, putting the regulation of the drug in a grey area of the law. This legal uncertainty, coupled with the fact that cannabis extracts and hash are illegal, has led some opponents to argue that the country’s decision to legalize was premature and reckless. Six members of the cannabis industry, including farmers and retailers, have revealed that the benefits of the recent legalization, particularly in the form of a new cash crop for growers, have not been materialized. The deluge of marijuana smuggled into Thailand has diluted demand for locally grown supplies, lowering prices and discouraging farmers from investing their time and resources into the industry. “What started as a promising opportunity has become increasingly difficult as prices continue to drop,” said grower, Srapathum Natthapong, who invested a chunk of his life savings to start his operation. Farmers are left with few options but to wait and hope that tighter restrictions on illegal imports are enforced. Many growers have considered quitting the industry altogether, faced with shrinking profit margins caused by the illegal imports. The government has reassured the public that the illegal marijuana imports will be dealt with, but has not provided concrete steps towards making that happen. Without the implementation of effective measures, the fight against illegal imports of marijuana will continue to be a losing battle. Despite these challenges, cannabis activists and enthusiasts alike continue to sing the praises of cannabis legalization, touting its many benefits. Pro-cannabis activist and retailer, Chokwan “Kitty” Chopaka, believes that one of the main sources of imported marijuana is from the U.S, and that it has flooded Thailand, particularly in its tourist centres. “The government should consider lifting restrictions on extracts and hash, which, while illegal, are a popular form of consumption for many users. Legalizing these products could provide additional support for struggling growers,” suggests Chokwan. Inevitably, politics is at play too, with the opposition criticizing the ruling pro-military coalition’s approach to the marijuana issue ahead of the May 14 polls. The opposition party, Pheu Thai Party, has vowed to restrict the use of marijuana, except in medicinal products, over concerns of its negative impact on society. Whether the legalization of cannabis can bridge political divides, support local farmers and continue to spark economic growth remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, the nation’s experiment with legalized weed is still in its early stages, and only time will reveal the long-term impacts of the country’s decision.
As a disclaimer, the opinions expressed in this article don’t reflect those of High Thailand.