The position of cannabis among countries around the globe has shifted and changed throughout the history of the plant, but none more than in recent years. Individuals around the world partake in cannabis use for recreational or medicinal purposes, making it the most widely used drug in the world. While Canada and Uruguay remain the only two countries that permit the nationwide sale of non-medical cannabis for adult recreational use, the laws regarding marijuana have been evolving to meet the demands of the 21st century. In 2022, Thailand became the first country in Asia to fully legalize the plant; however, despite the steps taken toward lowering the bar on cannabis use, Thailand’s now flourishing cannabis market is set to end with the government seeking to ban the substance once again. 

While cannabis use among Asian countries is comparably low compared to other countries like the U.S., the legalization of marijuana in Thailand created a booming market in the country that its leaders did not entirely expect. Yes, consumerism helps a country’s economy, but the Thai government never intended for such wide usage and selling of the plant. 

According to Anutin Charnvirakul, who served as public health minister under Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the government intended to promote cannabis use for medicinal purposes. Medical marijuana use was legalized in 2018 by the Thai government, but the home cultivation, personal production, and sale of cannabis were still illegal. However, things changed in 2022 when Thailand became the first country in Asia to allow the production and sale of the plant for recreational purposes, and this legalization left leaders hoping to generate a commercial industry that would serve the demand of medical users—unfortunately, they got a lot more than they bargained for.

In a July 2022 interview with CNN, Charnvirakul stated that Thailand has always “emphasized using cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical purposes and for health,” going on to explain that “there has never once been a moment that we would think about advocating people to use cannabis in terms of recreation—or use it in a way that it could irritate others.”

l4Nzub Z6UngCpb4vp53 hD1ZLxzac4tiKl 6KSb87MU5dGPAfHH RBE8semKEHl

Unfortunately, the 2022 legislation for marijuana use left too many gray areas, areas that residents colored in with neon signs flashing the cannabis leaf down many streets in the country. Almost overnight, a collection of shops, dispensaries, and other marijuana-themed businesses sprawled across The Land of Smiles, creating panic among leaders about runaway rates of recreational use. 

Despite the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce estimating this booming sector of the economy could be worth $1.2 billion by next year, Thai government officials are looking to clamp down on cannabis culture, with a ban on its recreational use expected to be out by the end of the year. 

Under the new legislation, medical usage of the plant will still be permitted, but the import, export, cultivation, and commercial use of marijuana would require government permits. Further stamping out cannabis culture in Thailand, this legislation will tighten punishments for those caught using marijuana recreationally, facing hefty fines, while those selling the drug or advertising it could face jail time, penalties, or both.

With the 2022 legalization of marijuana backfiring massively in Thailand, this experience should be a learning lesson to other countries seeking marijuana reform, providing evidence of the consequences that come from poor planning.