Thailand's flourishing cannabis culture to end as government seeks ban

Thailand's flourishing cannabis culture to end as government seeks ban

People sit near stalls selling cannabis on a street in Phuket on Aug 27, 2023. (Photo: Reuters)
People sit near stalls selling cannabis on a street in Phuket on Aug 27, 2023. (Photo: Reuters)

Thodsapol Hongtong is enjoying a smoke with his friends at the "Green Party", a venue where recreational cannabis enthusiasts meet in Bangkok to chat and have a good time. But it's a pastime that may be coming to an end.

The 31-year-old influencer who runs his own cannabis shop regularly touts recreational marijuana as good for the country's economy on his online platform "Channel Weed Thailand".

The booming cannabis sector could be worth 43 billion baht by next year, according to an estimate by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.

"Where (else) in the world can we lie around on the beach and enjoy a joint," Mr Thodsapol told Reuters, taking a puff from his bong.

But the government is looking to stamp out cannabis culture with a ban on its recreational use to be rolled out by the end of the year. Medical use will still be permitted.

Public Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew, in an interview with Reuters last month, described recreational marijuana as a "misuse" of cannabis that has a negative impact on children and could lead to other drug abuses.

Recreational cannabis flourished in Thailand after the country became the first in Asia to fully decriminalise the substance in 2022, enabling a new public wave of weed appreciation culture.

Neon signs of cannabis leaf in multiple languages are highly visible on many street corners in towns and cities, marking the tens of thousands of shops, spas, bars and gaming lounges where a variety of cannabis strains are readily available.

Many streetside shops in tourist areas sell smoking paraphernalia, while cannabis-related festivals became more common, like last year's joint-rolling competition in the resort island of Phuket that drew in weed aficionados from around the world. The government's draft law banning recreational use of cannabis will be up for cabinet approval later this month.

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