A year and a half ago Thailand legalised cannabis but the new coalition government elected in spring 2023 is now seeking to restrict the substance again, limiting it to medicinal use.
The “Bangkok Hilton”
Having run for election on a manifesto that promised tougher recreational drug laws, the Pheu Thai party leads the coalition. However they must work with the Bhumjaithai Party leader, Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who was a former Health Minister in the military government and had previously argued for a helping hand to rural economies with more relaxed drug laws that would also ease prison crowding.
Thailand used to have a reputation for strict drug penalties, up to 15 years for possession. The so-called “Bangkok Hilton”, or Bang Kwang Central Prison was synonymous with the harsh punishment dished out to offenders. After the release of thousands of drug criminals and huge growth in the marijuana sector, which has seen over a million registrations for weed farming licences and over 6,000 new recreational drug dispensaries appear nationwide, Charnvirakul has now backtracked, saying the country’s economic focus should be on medicinal not recreational use.
Plans are therefore afoot to reinstate penalties of up to 60,000 Thai baht (€1,560) for recreational use and prison sentences of up to a year. In addition, the coalition is proposing fines of up to 100,000 baht (€2,600) for promoting cannabis for recreational use. Growing cannabis without a licence could land you between one and three years in prison or fines ranging between 20,000 to 300,000 baht (€520 to €7,780).
The new strategy awaits the results of public consultation and eventual cabinet rubberstamping, and must still go on to the House of Representatives in Thailand for further scrutiny after that.
Tourists and visitors to the country should be aware that although weed shops are still open nationally, smoking marijuana in public is forbidden and loosely-worded rules against “causing a public nuisance” are being exploited by police to impose 25,000 baht (€650) fines (and some say to blackmail tourists).
Any product containing more than 0.2 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, remains classified as a narcotic. However some dispensaries are selling such products which risk causing legal problems for those who purchase them, unless it can be proven the product is for medicinal use.
Visitors to Thailand should also be acutely aware that transporting drugs over national frontiers is strictly forbidden and Thailand’s neighbouring countries have some of the strictest drug laws in the world. Singapore carries out regular executions for drug crimes.