Last year, Thailand made history by becoming the first Southeast Asian country to decriminalize cannabis. But within the next six months, the country's new leaders are planning to walk back the previous administration's progressive decision.
Thailand legalized medical marijuana in 2018, starting with a somewhat limited program that allowed hospitals to prescribe cannabis oils to qualified patients. The country's health officials quickly liberalized the program as the years passed, though. In 2019, officials began allowing citizens to grow their own weed at home and sell it to the government for medical use. And last year, the country fully decriminalized all parts of the cannabis plant, effectively ending prohibition.
The Thai government only intended to legalize cannabis for medicinal use, and officials hoped that citizens and local businesses would respect that intention. But many local businesses seized on the opportunity to set up recreational cannabis shops, weed-infused restaurants, and mobile pot trucks. There are reportedly around 6,000 dispensaries in Thailand today, and the easy access to weed has helped make the country one of the world's hottest destinations for cannabis tourism.
Those days may be numbered, though. The country's new prime minister, Srettha Thavisin, and his Pheu Thai party won the election in May on a hard-line anti-drug policy. And cannabis is one of the many drugs the new leaders plan to crack down on. Srettha recently told the press that he plans to stamp out recreational pot use and shut down unregulated shops over the course of the next six months.
“The law will need to be rewritten,” Srettha said, according to The Guardian. “It needs to be rectified. We can have that regulated for medical use only.”
It's too early to tell exactly how strict the new rules will be. The Bhumjaithai Party, which advocated for the country's current laissez-faire weed policies, is still part of the government coalition. The party's leader, Anutin Charnvirakul, is opposed to classifying cannabis as an illegal narcotic again. Instead, Anutin hopes to reintroduce a bill in parliament that would restrict cannabis sales without completely criminalizing it.
Thailand's weed renaissance may have kicked off a new wave of tourism, but many traditional tourist establishments are actually applauding the new leadership's cannabis crackdown. Much like Amsterdam, locals and hotels have gotten sick of dealing with droves of stoned tourists wandering the streets. Hotels still continue to prohibit customers from smoking up in their rooms to comply with indoor air quality regulations, but some tourists are ignoring those rules.
The local tourism industry is also convinced that re-criminalizing weed wouldn't stop tourists from visiting the country. “European guests have recovered by 80%, with forward bookings in the upcoming high season reaching 40-50%,” Suksit Suvunditkul, president of the southern chapter of the Thai Hotels Association, told The Bangkok Post. “If the government closes cannabis shops, it would not affect the tourism business. Phuket posted steady growth even before cannabis was liberalized.”