Thailand to clamp down on cannabis use in major U-turn on drug policy

Prime minister Srettha Thavisin has said the drug will be for medical use only, adding that problems arising from drug use have been ‘widespread’

Thailand’s new prime minister, Srettha Thavisin, has said his government will “rectify” its cannabis policy and limit its use to medical purposes within six months.

Thailand became the first country in Asia to decriminalise cannabis after it delisted the marijuana plant as a narcotic last year, leading to a boom of cannabis cafes and weed dispensaries in popular tourist destinations such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pattaya.

However, the failure to pass legislation to regulate its use has opened a legal vacuum in the country.

Thailand’s new leader, a real estate tycoon who came to power in August, said there has been an agreement among the coalition government about the need to change the law and ban its use for recreation.

Srettha leads the Pheu Thai Party, which formed a coalition government with 10 other parties and promoted a hardline anti-narcotics campaign before the election.

“The law will need to be rewritten,” Srettha told Bloomberg Television in an interview in New York, where he is attending the UN general assembly.

“It needs to be rectified. We can have that regulated for medical use only.”

When asked if there will be a compromise for recreational use, Srettha answered “no,” adding that problems arising from drug use have been “widespread lately.”

Some tourism operators have welcomed the move to curb its use, citing problems caused by loose industry regulation.

Thanet Supornsahasrungsi, group executive director of Sunshine Hotels and Resorts in Pattaya, said most of the cannabis shops open are meant for recreational use and there have been reports of marijuana overdose.

“If we would like to use it for medical purposes, law enforcement should be stricter to make sure we can offer them medical treatment which is safe for their health,” Thanet told the Bangkok Post.

Currently, anyone older than 20 and who is not pregnant or breastfeeding is legally allowed to use cannabis within their residences, and food containing its extracts can be consumed inside licensed restaurants.

In many Asian countries, the use and possession of cannabis carry heavy penalties and jail time, with Singapore penalizing offenders with up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to S$20,000 (£12,000), or both.

• This article was amended on 26 September 2023. An earlier version said that the use and possession of cannabis in Singapore was punishable with the death penalty. The penalty for this level of offence is up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to S$20,000, or both.

Ron Lopez in Manila

The GuardianTramp

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