What is the current cannabis situation?

What is the current cannabis situation?

Thailand decriminalised the drug over two months ago

People purchase cannabis from a mobile stall located on Khao San Road, Bangkok. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)
People purchase cannabis from a mobile stall located on Khao San Road, Bangkok. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

It has been over two months since Thailand legalised the cultivation and sale of cannabis for medical purposes.

The move is a boon for cannabis-related businesses. Still, growing concerns from many, including medical professionals, are getting louder as a draft cannabis bill makes its way through parliament.

Q: What do Thailand's cannabis restrictions entail?

On June 9, Thailand became the first country in Southeast Asia to decriminalise cannabis, removing the plant from its category five narcotics list by publishing an announcement in the Royal Gazette.

In theory, the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) compound that creates the psychoactive effect in cannabis must be less than 0.2% if used in medicine or in food. A higher percentage of cannabis and hemp extracts is still illegal. Households are able to cultivate plants at home with registration on the designated application, and companies can also farm the plant with a permit.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul stressed that the easing of restrictions aims to promote three areas: highlighting the medical benefits, serving as an alternative treatment for patients, and supporting a cannabis economy by pushing cannabis and hemp to be cash crops.

He estimated the cannabis industry could be worth more than US$3 billion within five years.

Q: What actually happened in Thailand after cannabis was legalised?

In reality, the grey legal area made it possible for people to have easy access to cannabis products such as drinking water, food, sweets, and cookies. Many products contain more than 0.2% of THC.

From Khao San Road to Samui, many vendors set up shops to sell cannabis and cannabis-infused products. Restaurants advertise and serve dishes that contain cannabis among their ingredients. People, including tourists, have been seen puffing on joints containing weed despite a law forbidding the smoking of cannabis in public as it considers it to be a nuisance.

Students aged 16 and 17 years were admitted to hospitals in Bangkok for treatment of what was defined as a "cannabis overdose". A week after cannabis became legalised, four males, including a 51-year-old man, suffered from chest pains. The 51-year-old man later died of heart failure at Charoen Krung Pracharak Hospital.

Q: What are the ongoing control measures?

In response, Mr Anutin quickly signed regulations prohibiting people under the age of 20, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers from possessing and using cannabis, unless they have a doctor's permission.

Several other rules included banning cannabis from schools, the requirement for retailers to provide clear information on the use of cannabis in food and drinks, and the application of a health law that defined smoke from cannabis as a public nuisance punishable by jail for up to three months and a fine of up to 25,000 baht.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand published guidelines on rules and regulations concerning cannabis and hemp use in July. It reiterated that the importation into Thailand of products containing cannabis and hemp extracts, and hemp-derived products, as well as any parts of cannabis and hemp, is illegal.

Furthermore, more than 800 doctors from Ramathibodi Hospital have called for the immediate suspension of the policy of cannabis decriminalisation pending the implementation of adequate controls to protect the young.

And during a censure debate in parliament last month, the opposition grilled Mr Anutin and accused him of causing social problems and violating local and international laws by decriminalising cannabis without proper controls. Mr Anutin insisted that cannabis abuse would not happen during the tenure of this government, and he hoped that a relevant law would be passed quickly to regulate cannabis use.

Q: What are the warnings that overseas governments issued regarding cannabis use in Thailand?

The hazy legal repercussions for those violating such control measures have led overseas governments to issue warnings to their citizens.

The US Embassy in Bangkok published an announcement with a bold title that reads: "Message for U.S. Citizens in Thailand [June 22, 2022]. Recreational use of marijuana in public is illegal in Thailand".

The notification made clear that anyone smoking cannabis and hemp in public for recreational purposes still faces legal consequences of imprisonment of up to three months or a fine of up to 25,000 baht if they cause a public nuisance or pose health hazards to others.

The UK government's website advised its citizens that "private recreational use of cannabis is legal if THC content is below 0.2% by weight, but cannabis use in public places remains illegal … check with the relevant local authorities if you are unsure."

As for Singapore, the country's Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) made clear that checks are regularly conducted at various checkpoints, and consuming drugs outside of Singapore's borders is a crime.

"[Under] the Misuse of Drugs Act, any Singapore citizen or permanent resident found to have consumed controlled drugs outside Singapore will also be liable for the drug consumption offence," the CNB told the Strait Times newspaper.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok issued a Q&A announcement on its website about how Chinese citizens should comply with Thailand's cannabis legalisation.

"There are no clear rules on whether foreign citizens can apply to grow cannabis in Thailand. It should be reminded that the Thai government still strictly manages the cannabis industry. The use of cannabis and its products must be based on health and medical reasons rather than recreational purposes," the embassy stated.

Q: What should one know before leaving Thailand with cannabis?

The Chinese Embassy warned of grave consequences if its citizens brought cannabis home in both physical forms and residue.

"Article 357 of the 'Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China' clearly stipulates that cannabis is a drug, and it is illegal to cultivate, possess, and consume cannabis in China. Tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] belongs to the first category of psychoactive drugs under control in China, namely drugs, and various products containing tetrahydrocannabinol are not allowed to be brought into China. It is a criminal offence to carry cannabis or cannabis products into China," the announcement reads on the embassy's website.

The announcement added that Chinese citizens smoking cannabis or consuming food and beverages containing cannabis in Thailand will have traces in biological samples such as urine, blood, saliva, and hair. This means that if for some reason Chinese citizens who smoked in Thailand later get drug tested in China when returning home, they could face legal trouble and will be punished accordingly as they will be deemed to have abused an illegal narcotic drug.

Meanwhile, Thai embassies in many countries such as Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Indonesia issued warnings that bringing cannabis and cannabis-based products into the country could result in severe penalties such as stiff jail terms, deportation and the likelihood of being barred from future entry.

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