Thailand’s 6,000 ganja shops could now be under threat

Thailand’s marijuana retail units are debating what the new legal threats might mean.

In a surprise move, The Thai prime minister revealed in an interview in New York that smoking pot for leisure needs to be outlawed once again. Srettha Thavisin told Bloomberg Television that the law needs to be rewritten to regulate ganja for medical use only. “There can’t be a middle ground for recreational use,” he concluded.

Following the declassification of marijuana as a narcotic last year, around 6,000 “dispensaries” have opened nationwide with most of them not bothering to hide their sales to the smoke-for-leisure Thai and foreign population. The retail outlets are supposed to restrict to 0.2 percent the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol which is what gives inhalers the “high” sensation. But the whole ganja industry in Thailand has a great deal of latitude as there is no comprehensive law in place describing what is legal and what is not.

However, many commentators are skeptical that pot leisure smoking will again attract criminal penalties. “Off” Boonchert, who owns several retail outlets in Pattaya, said, “There isn’t a sharp dividing line between medical use and leisure. A man with cancer might also enjoy the puff. One solution might be for customers to sign a paper prior to purchase indicating what illness they have.” He added that the police would not want a return to the bad old days when the weed was sold underground which made it hard to control.

Another ambiguity is whether all the groups in the current eleven party coalition will agree on a common policy. The declassification last year was the achievement of health minister Anutin Charnvirakul whose Bhumjaithai party is still in the new government. Anutin has spoken favourably about new rules governing cannabis, but is also on record stating he disagrees the drug could become a narcotic once again. The popularity of Bhumjaithai in last May’s general election was partly due to a pro-weed stance.

It will likely take up to a year for a new law to appear in the statute book. The expected clauses will emphasize protection of children and will likely detail new rules for Thai farmers growing cannabis for sale after registration. There will likely too be a ban on smoking cafes and promotional slogans such as “Have a high time here” or “Come to the stars with us”. But it is still far from clear that the selling, purchase and use of cannabis by the public at large will once again automatically attract a prison sentence.