Thailand’s prime minister has demanded that marijuana be put back on the drug list, banning recreational use and tightening the law on possession.

Thai Prime Minister Settha Thaweesin has announced that marijuana will be classified as a drug by the end of 2024, reversing a legalisation policy adopted two years ago when Thailand became one of the first countries in Asia to decriminalise the recreational use of marijuana.

The decision to re-list marijuana as a narcotic drug comes amid a booming retail marijuana sector in Thailand. Over the past two years, tens of thousands of shops and businesses specialising in cannabis cultivation and marijuana retail have sprung up in the country. The industry is expected to be worth $1.2 billion by 2025.

‘Demand that the Department of Health amend the regulations and put marijuana on the drug list. The ministry should quickly issue a rule allowing the use of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes only,’ Prime Minister Settha Thavisin said on social media X.

The government decriminalised marijuana for medical purposes in 2018. Recreational use was decriminalised in 2022 under a different administration. However, the rapid policy change has led to confusion about the rules and understanding.

After a meeting with drug enforcement officials, the prime minister promised to adopt a stricter approach to the fight against drugs and demanded tangible results in the fight against drugs within 90 days.

‘Drugs are a problem destroying the future of the country, and many young people have an addiction. We need to work fast to seize the assets of drug traffickers and expand treatment,’ commented Settha Thavisin.

The Prime Minister also demanded that drug possession laws be revised to treat possession of even a single dose as a severe offence, thereby stepping up enforcement efforts.

The Setthi Thavisin administration had earlier announced plans to pass a new marijuana law by the end of the year that would outlaw recreational use but allow medical and recreational use: the exact timeline and necessary procedures for making marijuana a drug has not yet been determined.

Prasitchai Nunual, secretary general of Thailand’s Cannabis Future Network, criticised the move to decriminalise marijuana, warning that the measure would damage the economy and negatively affect small businesses and consumers.

‘Many people started growing cannabis and opened marijuana shops, which will now have to close,’ Prasitchai said.

‘If scientific studies show that marijuana is more harmful than alcohol and cigarettes, then certainly we should put marijuana on the list of banned substances. But if marijuana is less harmful, therefore, then cigarettes and alcohol should also be listed as banned substances.’

Decriminalising marijuana was a significant campaign promise of Bumiaztai’s party ahead of the 2019 elections. The plant was later removed from the list of category five drugs, except for extracts containing more than 0.2 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol, a compound that causes psychoactive effects.

Decriminalisation allowed people to legally grow and use marijuana as a home herb for medicinal purposes. The goal is to popularise the medical benefits and support the economy by promoting hemp and marijuana as cash crops and allowing use in food, fashion and cosmetics.

Current regulations prohibit smoking in public places and sales to people under 20 and pregnant women. Marijuana shops and farmers growing cannabis on an industrial scale are required to obtain a licence.

However, decriminalisation came before the laws necessary to control and regulate marijuana use were passed, resulting in a ‘free-for-all’ in the industry. Businesses, many of them foreign-owned, invested in marijuana shops, and users bought pot without any medical or consumer guidance.

Parliament has yet to pass a marijuana bill, raising questions about how far liberalisation has gone. A marijuana control bill proposed by the Bumiazhtai Party was rejected at its second reading in Parliament. This bill contained several protective measures, such as a zoning law. At the time, the Phua Thai and Democrat parties opposed the bill, arguing that the proposed regulations were too lenient.

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