Thailand Prime Minister Aims To Re-List Cannabis as Narcotic By End of 2024

In the latest move in Thailand’s profound reversal of cannabis decriminalization and reform, the country’s prime minister announced his intent to re-list the drug as a narcotic by the year’s end.
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Looking back to early 2023, Thailand’s climate surrounding cannabis looked incredibly different than conversations surrounding the plant today. The country made major waves after becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to allow medical cannabis use in 2018, and it received global attention after decriminalizing recreational cannabis in 2022.

Though, the events that followed — including an influx of tourists openly using cannabis in public, the opening of plentiful cannabis cafes and reportedly thousands of pot shops over a handful of months with minimal quality control — quickly had leaders backtracking the historic move. 

Now, nearly two months after Thailand lawmakers made the historic move, the country’s current Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced that the country will move to re-list cannabis as a narcotic by the end of the year, Associated Press reports.

Thailand Presses on to Reverse Cannabis Reform Progress

The change in attitude surrounding cannabis is nothing new, as lawmakers recently approved legislation aimed to walk back cannabis reform and ban the use of recreational cannabis. The proposal clarifies that only the use of medical cannabis is allowed, while recreational cannabis is prohibited.

“Without the law to regulate cannabis it will be misused,” Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew said in March, referring to recreational use. At the time, he added that approximately 20,000 cannabis shops had legally registered with the government. The new law would force any unregistered shops, which became far more abundant following Thailand’s decriminalization move, to close. 

Rather, the new comments provide more insight on Srettha’s time table and future plans for recreational cannabis in Thailand.

Earlier this week, the prime minister clarified on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, “I want the health ministry to amend the rules and re-list cannabis as a narcotic,” adding that the ministry should “quickly issue” a rule to limit cannabis usage to medical only.

Thailand Prime Minister’s Broader Crackdown on Drug Use

The comments followed a meeting with the prime minister and agencies associated with narcotics suppression, prompting Srettha to take a hard stance on illicit drugs and order authorities to deliver results and “clear progress” in the next 90 days.

“Drugs is a problem that destroys the future of the country, many young people are addicted. We have to work fast, to confiscate assets (of drug dealers) and expand treatment,” he said.

Initially, the decriminalization move was only meant for medicinal use, though it led to an unregulated market that steadily prompted public backlash and concern over cannabis misuse and potential crime.

Additionally, Srettha asked authorities to be more specific about what constitutes drug possession under the law, from “small amount” to “one pill” in an effort to enforce tougher drug penalties.

While Srettha requested that cannabis be re-listed as a narcotic by the end of the year, it’s still not clear when this will happen and what the process will look like.

Questions Surrounding Cannabis Re-Criminalization

Throughout this U-turn of sorts, numerous advocates and entrepreneurs have opposed the rollback and said that it will ultimately damage Thailand’s economy. According to Reuters, Thailand’s cannabis industry is projected to be worth up to $1.2 billion by 2025 given the thousands of new shops and uptick in tourism throughout the country since 2022.

While it is largely accepted that the country potentially embraced too much too quickly when it comes to cannabis, other Thailand authorities aren’t as optimistic about the policy reversal. 

Prasitchai Nunual, secretary-general of Thailand’s Cannabis Future Network, argued that moving to recriminalize would hurt the economy, small businesses, and consumers. 

“Many people have been growing cannabis and opening cannabis shops. These will have to close down,” he told Reuters. “If scientific results show that cannabis is worse than alcohol and cigarettes then they can re-list it as a narcotic. If cannabis is less harmful, they should list cigarettes and alcohol as narcotics too.”

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