Cannabis Will Be Made Illegal Again in Thailand, Says Prime Minister

(Bloomberg) -- Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin ordered a u-turn on the country’s landmark cannabis policy, saying the plant should be soon classified as a narcotic again and its use limited to medical and health purposes.

Most Read from Bloomberg

The Ministry of Public Health will re-classify cannabis as a “category five” narcotic, which makes it a crime to possess and consume, after Thailand became the first country in Asia to decriminalize the plant two years ago, Srettha said in post on X on Wednesday.

The policy volte-face is another blow to Thailand’s nascent cannabis industry after decriminalization was pitched as a way to boost agricultural income and wellness tourism. Srettha had vowed to restrict the use of marijuana to just medical purposes.

Liberal use of cannabis became a hot-button political issue ahead of the Thailand’s national election last year. With efforts to establish regulations around the marijuana industry failing, a legal vacuum has fueled drug addiction, according to some politicians.

Srettha’s Pheu Thai Party promoted a hard-line anti-drug campaign ahead of the election and pledged to eradicate drugs from Thai society. Earlier this week, the premier gave a 90-day deadline for law enforcement and local authorities to crack down on drugs in 25 provinces considered as “red zones.”

Newly-appointed Health Minister Somsak Thepsuthin had hinted that a rethink on the marijuana policy was in the works when he said on Tuesday that the ministry is in the process of gathering public opinion to determine how to regulate the plant.

Somsak’s predecessor, Cholnan Srikaew, told Bloomberg earlier this year that he would seek to ban recreational use of cannabis, threatening to put out of business thousands of marijuana shops and farms that have sprung up around the country over the last two years.

A bill seeking to outlaw recreational use, tighter licensing rules on planting, sales, exports and imports of cannabis was delayed while going through bureaucratic process, as opposition from industry groups mounted. Cholnan’s proposal failed to get a cabinet approval by March as planned.

Former prime minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha’s administration decriminalized cannabis in 2022 to free up the plant for medicinal use and as a cash crop.

Almost 8,000 dispensaries and a large number of consumer-agro firms have cropped up across Thailand, selling everything from cannabis buds to oil extracts and weed-infused candy to baked goods. Under current decriminalization laws, cannabis products must not contain more than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol — the psychoactive compound that provides a “high” sensation — to be considered legal.

(Recasts throughout.)

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.