The caretaker health minister and leader of the Bhumjaithai political party has issued a thinly veiled warning to the Pheu Thai not to try and reclassify marijuana as a narcotic subject to criminal penalties. Anutin Charnvirakul, who is to be the powerful interior minister in the new government coalition lineup, said that any (unwelcome) moves to recriminalize the weed must be “carefully discussed” with coalition partners including the military block which legalized ganja back in 2022. But Anutin has this week promised a new law to clear up some dark corners.
Although the political emphasis in Thailand is always on the beneficial connection between the weed and health or pain issues, purchasing and smoking pot for leisure is ignored as long as it’s consumed in private and does not involve pregnant women or kids. The consequence has been the opening of maybe 12,000 ganja outlets including weed trucks, mainly in tourist areas on Thailand, some of which also offer alcohol or massage as part of the service. They can sell “medical” marijuana without or without a prescription although they need to be registered businesses.
These dispensaries, which they technically are, face intense competition with some owners claiming they might go out of business. A few already have. Such saturation fears likely explain why the bolder retail units and chains are risking selling dried marijuana flowers that have been imported illegally, mostly from Canada and the United States. They are advertised with suggestive geographical names such as Quebec Heights and Central Park Puff. Many market traders are saying that a police crackdown on illegal imports can be expected once a new law is promulgated.
Meanwhile, foreign and Thai investors believe that leisure ganja has a bright future as neighboring countries in south east Asia still enforce criminal laws for possession of even minute amounts. Expensive indoor farms are being built across Thailand with foreign investments. There are also hundreds of traditional medicine clinics which focus also on CBD, a cannabis extract that doesn’t create “highs” but is promoted as a natural remedy for many ailments. One of the dangers for the individual Thai farmer or grower is that he or she will be squeezed out as big business become dominant over the next year or two.
Ganja is here to stay whilst foreign tourists, who feel inclined, will puff happily provided they use some discretion. The Thai cannabis market is estimated to be worth 31.8 billion baht in 2023 by the Thai Chamber of Commerce. By 2025 the market will be worth 42.9 billion baht. No Thai government, whatever its political complexion, is going to turn its back on a golden opportunity.