The Memo: Thailand plans to overturn progressive cannabis laws

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Thailand plans to overturn progressive cannabis laws

James Westmacott – 19 February 2024

When Thailand became the first Asian country to legalise medicinal cannabis back in 2018, commentators felt that the floodgates would thus be opened to the further easing of its historically stringent drug laws. How right they were; four years later in June 2022, cannabis (that contained less than 0.2% THC) was fully legalised in the country. It directly lead to a resurgent cannabis culture, characterised by the bright green neon lights of the newly-opened dispensaries welded to the tourist trail. But ever since the incumbent Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin was sworn into power back in August, his ruling party Pheu Thai have sought to clamp down on usage of the drug, and are now drawing up plans to strictly regulate marijuana use.

The decision to renege on such liberal laws stems from the idea that cannabis has been poorly regulated since its legalisation, on top of the widespread belief that the plant poses serious health risks to its users. In a move that sought to reduce overcrowding in Thai prisons and to provide the nation’s agricultural sector with a much-needed boost, critics argue that cannabis legalisation has achieved exactly the opposite – increased violence and a greater number of cannabis-related psychological issues reported.

Yet despite government plans to relinquish Thailand’s cannabis laws, the government isn’t looking to completely revert. Thailand once held a reputation for having some of the most strict drug laws in the world. Before 2022, being found in possession of the drug could have resulted in a 15-year prison sentence. Instead, the draft law – which is expected to pass shortly – proposes a prison sentence of up to year or a 60,000 Thai baht (£1,300) fine. But while the new law appears imminent, it may still be subject to amendments.

Here in the UK, cannabis laws remain even stricter. Fines or prison sentences can be handed out for taking, possessing, making, or selling drugs, with the ultimate penalty an individual can receive dependent on the class of the substance as per the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. With Class A drugs deemed most dangerous and Class C the least, cannabis is listed as a Class B drug, meaning the maximum penalty for possession is up to five years in prison, and up to 14 years in the case of being found supplying or producing it. As a result, there have long been calls for the decriminalisation of cannabis in the UK, with critics having pointed towards more progressive cannabis laws in Portugal, the Netherlands, and, interestingly, Thailand as an example for change.