Thailand’s 6,000 marijuana shops can stay open if they behave themselves

Smoking pot for pleasure is about to become off-limits again, but some critics say the genie is already out of the bottle.

The public health ministry has completed the first draft of a new cannabis act, but without automatically reclassifying the “controlled herb” as a narcotic. That’s according to health minister Cholnan Srikaew. However, any extract containing more than 0.2 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) will be so listed and potentially subject buyers and sellers to prosecution. The draft makes clear that the use of the weed for medical purposes will continue and expand, but not for recreational reasons which will become specifically off the agenda.

In the short term at least, most marijuana shops in the kingdom will remain open although they will need a detailed license to operate, and will be required to ban on-site smoking as well as the sale of cannabis buds. The new law will also list the places which cannot allow cannabis on their premises. Likely candidates for banning are cafes, retail outlets, pubs and clubs. Smoking cannabis at home or in a hotel room remains a grey area, though puffing in your own abode should technically be only for medical reasons and not to enjoy a high.

Everyone agrees that the current legal situation in Thailand, since decriminalization of the plant last year, is a free-for-all as various businesses entered the sector with little regulatory guidance or oversight. The 6,000 marijuana shops which have sprung up, mainly in tourist areas, do not invariably have proper licences, ban teenagers or restrict their sales to low-level THC products. Supporters of stricter rules say a new law will help avoid oversupply in a saturated market and end the misconception that smoking pot for fun is fine and dandy.

Critics are far from sure the new law will work. Owner of several cannabis shops in Pattaya and beyond Jo Jintana said, “There is likely to be an early crackdown on unlicensed outlets, but the distinction between health and pleasure is inevitably blurred. If a guy is found smoking pot, he may say he’s depressed or is in pain, but also enjoys a puff.” He added that vice crackdowns by police in the past have tended to be one-offs more designed to attract favorable publicity. “All prostitution has been illegal in Thailand since the 1960s, but you’d never know it would you?”

Although some cannabis retail outlets proclaim that they are dispensaries for resolving medical issues, some retain names which suggest recreational satisfaction. Examples include Cannabis High Depot, The Lovely Leaf, Grashaus Coffeeshop and Get Stoned. They may have to think it out again.