Here’s what tourists need to know about using weed in Thailand under new proposals.
Just 18 months after Thailand opened the floodgates by legalising cannabis, the country’s new conservative coalition government is seeking to slam them shut.
Neon weed signs have become ubiquitous in Bangkok’s busy tourist area, with dispensaries cropping up on every corner. Hundreds of food and drink vendors advertise cannabis-infused menus.
But this could all change under new proposals to strictly regulate marijuana use and restrict it for medicinal purposes.
Why are Thailand’s cannabis rules changing so soon?
Following the general election in May last year, Thailand came under new leadership in September.
The conservative coalition government headed by the Pheu Thai Party is behind the calls for a crackdown on cannabis, which has been poorly regulated since its legalisation.
Pheu Thai campaigned on banning the recreational use of marijuana, saying it poses health risks and could cause substance abuse issues among young people.
Anutin Charnvirakul, the former Health Minister who oversaw the drug’s legalisation in the previous military-run government, has now risen the ranks to Deputy Prime Minister. He is the leader of the Bhumjaithai Party, part of the new government coalition.
When backing the legalisation of marijuana in 2022, he said it would ease overcrowding in Thailand’s prisons and help boost the rural economy.
On the day of legalisation, more than 3,000 inmates held on cannabis charges were released. Within the year, the country’s weed industry was worth 28 billion Thai baht (€728 million) and by 2030 it was projected to reach 336 billion baht (€8.7 billion).
But Anutin has since told CNN that he never advocated the recreational use of marijuana, insisting that the focus had always been on health and medical use.
Since cannabis was legalised, over 1.1 million Thai people have registered for licences to grow it and more than 6,000 weed dispensaries have popped up across the country, many with little quality control.
It has also sparked a thriving weed tourism industry that many fear will be difficult to put a lid on.
What is the punishment for cannabis use in Thailand?
Before weed was legalised in Thailand in June 2022, the country had some of the world’s harshest drug laws.
Possession of cannabis could land you in prison for up to 15 years, with the infamous Bang Kwang Central Prison – ironically nicknamed the Bangkok Hilton after an Australian TV series depicted its squalid, overcrowded conditions – acting as a major deterrent for tourists.
The government is currently canvassing public opinion on a draft bill banning the recreational use of marijuana and reclassifying it as a controlled substance.
It would impose fines of up to 60,000 Thai baht (€1,560) for recreational use, and prison sentences of up to a year. It also proposes fines of up to 100,000 baht (€2,600) for advertising or marketing cannabis for recreational use.
Farming without a licence could carry a one to three year prison sentence or fines from 20,000 to 300,000 baht (€520 to €7,780).
The rules for cannabis shops and home growing are not yet clear.
Public feedback on the draft bill will be accepted until later this month. It still requires cabinet approval, after which it will be submitted to Thailand’s House of Representatives.
Can tourists still smoke weed in Thailand?
While Thailand waits on the outcome of the changes, weed shops are still open across Bangkok and beyond.
However, some rules are already in place to restrict the use of cannabis. Smoking or vaping in public places is not allowed. Causing a ‘public nuisance’ – including through the smell of weed – can lead to a 25,000 baht (€650) fine.
The details of what constitutes a ‘nuisance’ are murky and liable to exploitation by police. In Bangkok, officers have been known to blackmail and extort tourists caught on the wrong side of the law.
Extracts containing more than 0.2 per cent THC are still legally classed as narcotics but some shops sell stronger products regardless, which could land purchasers in trouble – unless they have obtained official permission for medical purposes.
Tourists have also been warned that cannabis is still illegal in neighbouring countries and must not be transported across borders. Singapore, which has some of the world’s strictest drug policies, can arrest citizens for using drugs outside of the country as if they were consumed at home.