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Cannabis: The fat lady is about to sing!

The ease of buying marijuana on the streets of every province in Thailand will soon come to an end, as nearly all parties who contested Thailand’s recent elections are calling for the repeal of the law that famously decriminalised the cannabis plant.

By The Phuket News

Monday 22 May 2023, 02:08PM

Cannabis plants are grown at a community enterprise in Phuket Town. Photo: PR Phuket / file

Cannabis plants are grown at a community enterprise in Phuket Town. Photo: PR Phuket / file

In the absence of strict regulations, the cannabis industry has flourished in Thailand. With over 250,000 growers and more than 4,500 dispensaries selling ganja in every province, the industry was valued at US$1 billion by 2025 by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. Thailand has become so notorious for cannabis this is prompting law enforcement agents in other countries to screen returning travelers for cannabis use.

Anutin Charnvirakul, who before the national election served as the health minister, made a compelling case for the legalisation of the drug. He argued that by legalising cannabis, it would effectively alleviate prison overcrowding and stimulate the growth of the hemp industry, thereby reducing the poverty rate. Additionally, Thailand aimed to bolster its emerging medicine and culinary sectors, with expectations of generating substantial revenue in the future.

But a lot has changed since Bhumjaithai party quickly won popular support to decriminalise cannabis and hastily implemented it through their partnership with the military-backed government. Chaos followed and abuse of cannabis decriminalisation became rampant.
Most parties in the national election, for political or moral reasons, advocated repeal of the decriminalisation and limiting cannabis sale to medicinal purposes.

The popularity of this promised clamp down amongst Thai voters is apparent. Viral videos of stoned schoolchildren, as well as out of control tourists, have outraged a broadly conservative public who now see pre-rolled joints being sold everywhere and openly on the street for less than B100. 

Cannabis has become a political hot topic and we are unlikely to see a sensible outcome. Right or wrong, the view is that little of the supposed riches has flowed to Thai farmers and the recreational markets are seen as being dominated by foreign investors and illegally imported products. Events like the Phuket Ganja Festival and the aborted Khao San Road 420 celebration annoyed a lot of moderate Thais who see these events as abusing the basis for liberalisation of cannabis and embarrassing the country.

Pheu Thai, although second runner overall, won popular support by proposing to immediately relist cannabis as a narcotic while retaining its medical applications and banning all recreational use, which they say is negatively impacting Thai youth. Paetongtarn Shinawatra has pulled on the nation’s heartstrings and said, “I don’t want my children to grow up in a country where drugs are easy to find, and cannabis is liberalised.”

The Move Forward Party, now the clear winner in these elections, are known for being progressive in several areas, but on cannabis they support the same approach as Pheu Thai, stating that it is important to wipe out illegal recreational sales and unlicensed growers before gradually expanding medical cannabis again.

Only one party continues strong support for a liberal cannabis regime. Bhumjaithai led by Anutin is aware that the May 14 election results once again places him in a potential key position, as it did in 2019. 

Anutin continues to emphasise that support for a cannabis regulation bill, which notoriously failed to pass in the previous parliament, is crucial to obtaining the Bhumjaithai party’s support. His election posters continued to promise a golden era for the Northeast farmer with cannabis production remaining a core element. 

According to Anutin, Pheu Thai and various critics from different political backgrounds rallied together to support the removal of cannabis from the narcotics list. However, their actions seemed now more politically motivated as they strategically stirred dissatisfaction during this election, conveniently sidestepping any meaningful discussion about a Cannabis Act that he believes they would eventually support.

Regardless of the party, political direction, or any philosophical view on cannabis it is very obvious regulation and enforcement is coming and long-term industry success sorely needs the certainty that was lacking in the past year.

Laguna Phuket 2023

What is the likely outcome for the industry?

Smart money is on any incoming government redefining “recreational” cannabis as abuse of a narcotic while retaining controlled use of the plant under the Thai Traditional Medicine Act. Preventing recreational use is a common theme of all parties regardless of any credible evidence of negative impact on Thai society and Thai youth.

One commentator summed up the possible future when he said, “There’s not really a chance for the law to go backward (but) there’s a high chance of rule-making that would bar people from entering the industry… think of it like beer … alcohol … it won’t be illegal, but it will be extremely regulated.”


Despite the widespread presence of cannabis, it is important to remember that licenses were always required at every stage of the farm-to-dispensary process.

Even today, dispensaries should be licensed and operate under the ‘Protection and Promotion of Knowledge on Thai Traditional Medicine Act’. How enforcement plays out and what actual form any regulated use of cannabis takes is still unclear. Controlled models like those run in Switzerland and Germany are more likely to influence policymakers than the Canada legalisation model.

Under the current framework, professional growers are also required to obtain commercial licenses that are distinct from those more than 500,000 licenses obtained through the Pluk Ganja app, which was always meant for those wanting to grow cannabis for personal use.

Going forward, all growers selling under the Traditional Medicine Act will likely need this commercial license, but ownership will be scrutinised, and any grower will need to apply track and trace procedures as well as follow GACP and GMP standards ‒ putting many thinly capitalised growers out of business.

The great cannabis party is over, and whilst the “fat lady hasn’t sung”, she is waiting in the wings.

By Dr Paul Crosio

Dr Paul Crosio is a Partner at Silk Legal who was recently recognised as one of the Top 200 Global Cannabis Lawyers of 2022, To learn more about the legal framework for cannabis in Thailand, contact Silk Legal at

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Kurt | 26 May 2023 - 09:58:17

Same with new proposed B300 tourist tax. Government expected travel agents/airlines to collect (Just the idea). Dreaming to put them on a money pipe line to Government  moneybox, which they of course refuse. Private- and business foreign organisation are not a arm of Thai Government. Thick skinned Thailand should keep up her own pants in collecting taxes. 

Kurt | 26 May 2023 - 09:45:49

Always the same, Government 'do' first, before thinking through about it. Than later,..."Oh, we have to correct this".  Without proper law to enforce, many official licensed Cannabis shop all around. Can not making them sudden illegal, due to flip flop politics. Now the intended law must adjust to the present legal situation.  Same with that B300 tax, seems to fade away. 

Capricornball | 25 May 2023 - 14:42:04

Seems like all the MFP is proposing is to put the brakes on the unbridled weed market explosion, and determine a more measured and responsible rolling out of the program. Like everything here, there was no organized thought into post legalization, instead becoming nothing but an unadulterated greedy grab for baht, with no other thoughts as to the negative impacts to the social fabric.

Capricornball | 25 May 2023 - 14:33:56

I am not a smoker, but I'm all for responsible use. I think the transition from illegal to legal was recklessly way to fast and poorly thought out (big surprise). The weed market exploded faster than a flood of Russians pouring into Phuket. Now, the number of weed shops is triple the number of massage shops and girlie bars. Even the lifeguards at Surin were selling on the beach road.

Kurt | 25 May 2023 - 10:44:25

Overlooking the whole cannabis happening; To legalize what is already 'custom' among the people is ok, but the timing was wrong as the law/legal framework was/is(?) not ready since the day of legalizing. Now the cannabis spirit is out of the bottle. They never get it back in. Now law has to adjust to released reality.

Davew | 24 May 2023 - 20:31:57

Good luck,everybody selling it! Even my hairdresser openly advertises

christysweet | 23 May 2023 - 19:10:48

Stoners out of control? Sounds more like alcohol- sold  in every mom and pop shop.


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