Cannabis issue still causing jitters
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Cannabis issue still causing jitters

Legalisation did not have intended effect

People walk past a cannabis dispensary on March 17, 2023 in the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok.(Photo: AFP)
People walk past a cannabis dispensary on March 17, 2023 in the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok.(Photo: AFP)

Since the government legalised cannabis on June 9, 2022 by removing the plant from the list of prohibited narcotics, the tourism sector was expected to reap a windfall as Thailand was the first country in Asia to allow hemp consumption for certain purposes, other than recreational use.

A month after decriminalisation, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) published rules and regulations concerning cannabis and hemp use in the country in a bid to inform and warn tourists about prohibitions against smoking in public.

The bid followed a number of reports about foreign tourists who possessed or consumed cannabis without knowing they could face harsh punishment.

A Singaporean woman reportedly consumed cannabis mixed in soup while travelling in Thailand, mistaking its leaves for water spinach as there were no indications the plant was cooked in that dish.

Similar cases were reported by members of the Association of Thai Travel Agents and the Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA) as foreigners and their governments became more concerned about cannabis use in Thailand.

Outbound tourists were reminded to refrain from packing cannabis-mixed foods or ingredients while travelling to other countries, such as hemp oil or cannabidiol oil, which is popular among elders.

The situation prompted Thai embassies and government authorities in many countries, such as Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, China and Singapore, to remind their citizens and residents to avoid cannabis use in any form.

Concerns continued to mount as recreational use, which is against the law, was reported in several media stories.

In January, the government issued the "10 Things Tourists Need to Know About Cannabis in Thailand" to improve visitors' understanding of what they can and cannot do with cannabis while in the country.

According to a research article titled "The Chinese media narrative of Thailand as a tourist destination after the legalisation of cannabis" conducted by researchers from Chulalongkorn University in April this year, Chinese netizens' comments showed a negative perception of the country as a travel destination after the legalisation of cannabis use.

There were strongly worded posts from the Chinese embassy prohibiting their citizens from carrying cannabis or cannabis-related products back to China or other countries.


TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn said the agency listened to tourism operators and local communities about concerns over unclear regulations and the lack of a legal framework to control cultivation and usage.

He said the intention of using cannabis as a spearhead for medical tourism last year was to rapidly boost the competitiveness of the country during the recovery period.

However, amid a strong resumption of tourism, Mr Yuthasak said existing tourism products should be adequate to strengthen the industry without relying on cannabis.

"If we could use cannabis for medical tourism promotion, it would complement the tourism industry," he said.

"However, as there were petitions from communities and growing unease among locals, the TAT has to follow the new government regarding the direction of cannabis promotion in the future."

Mr Yuthasak said over the past several months the TAT didn't seriously promote cannabis tourism.

The agency only helped coordinate with the Public Health Ministry on efforts to introduce a medical tourism route, he said.

"The importance of cannabis to the tourism industry could be rated 3 out of 10 as we already have strengths in many aspects, while hemp could supplement what we already have," said Mr Yuthasak.


Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotels Association, said it is undeniable that the tourism sector has benefited from the legalisation of cannabis to some extent since last June.

However, hotel operators voiced concerns about the lack of details regarding the rules.

She said for example, if there is cannabis smoking in hotel rooms, is there a law covering this and what is the punishment for illegal use?

"We haven't been educated on how to deal with such cases," said Mrs Marisa.

Chotechuang Soorangura, vice-president of the TTAA, said foreign arrivals of almost 40 million in 2019 proved that Thai tourism can prosper even without promoting cannabis.

Mr Chotechuang said the public outcry against cannabis legalisation stemmed from loopholes in the legislation related to the plant's control.

He was referring to many viral clips last year showing how adults or even young children could easily engage in smoking pot.

Mr Chotechuang said the government should evaluate the situation thoroughly and weigh the economic benefits and threats to public safety after almost a year of legalisation.

He said he is worried legalisation could mean more trouble than opportunities, particularly in terms of different policies regulating cannabis in neighbouring countries.

Tourists could be uncomfortable consuming different foods or drinks in Thailand, worried about being caught or randomly tested upon the return to their home countries, said Mr Chotechuang, in addition to possible side effects.

"Legalised cannabis can continue if we have clear regulations and take a step back to educate locals along the way," he said.

"For example, adopting zoning for designated areas for cannabis use could be one option, as seen in many countries in Europe and the US."

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