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Eyes on Thailand: Green Kingdom

Thailand’s out-of-nowhere decriminalization of recreational cannabis in 2022 sparked a ganja goldrush. But conservative factions in Thai politics threaten to end it.




LEGAL—OR AT LEAST decriminalized—recreational cannabis is here to stay in Thailand. Or is it? The Southeast Asian nation removed the plant from its scheduled narcotics list on June 9, 2022, launching a stampede of pop-up cannabis shops, adding green appeal to the already booming Thai tourism industry and triggering the release of some 4,200 people imprisoned for cannabis offenses.

But a little more than a year later, the new Phak Kao Klai (Move Forward Party)-led government is making noise about dialing back the freewheeling Thai ganja scene—or possibly even banning recreational cannabis all over again. Such is life in the Land of Smiles, where populist political movements and a fractious parliamentary system can lead to big swings in public policy from year to year and even week to week.

For now, the Thai cannabis sector is thriving and expanding its reach across the country. And even if the tolerance for growing, selling and consuming recreational
cannabis is dialed back by the new government, medical marijuana—legalized in 2018—seems safe for now.

The Green Rush Spreads

THAI STICK: Budtenders at tourist-friendly cannabis shops like the Amsterdam
Café in Bangkok are able to offer a mix of imported and locally grown flower to ganja-curious travelers.

The Thai cannabis market was valued at Bt28 billion (US$800 million) in 2022, according to the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. The business and research school projects further growth to Bt31.8 billion this year and to Bt42.9 billion by 2025.

Thai farmers have added ganja to their crop rotations—more than 1 million Thais had applied to grow cannabis as of May 2023, according to a Nikkei Asia report. The Thai government issued 1.1 million licenses to grow or sell the plant in the first year of recreational decriminalization.

Bangkok, the Thai capital, has been an epicenter of the Green Rush, with thousands of merchants buying government licenses for just Bt2,000 (US$60) in the first few weeks of decriminalization.

Already Southeast Asia’s top vacation destination, Thailand has become a mecca for “cannabis tourism.” Of the 20 million visitors to Thailand in 2022, as many as two-thirds said health and wellness were factors in their trips. Global cannabis tourism is now a $17 billion-a-year industry, according to Forbes. Thailand is estimated to have pulled in $120 million of that in just over half a year of decriminalization in 2022.

Not Everyone’s Buying It

Despite these economic benefits, concerns about the impact of ganja on Thai society still run deep. Anti-cannabis critics beat the drum about the supposed dangers of increased drug abuse and crime. The Pheu Thai (For Thais) Party, part of the new ruling government coalition, ran explicitly on repealing decriminalization.

It’s unlikely that will happen—there’s too much money at stake—but it’s almost certain that new crackdowns on cannabis use will happen over the coming months. It’s still illegal in Thailand to consume ganja in public— smoking or vaping can lead to a Bt25,000 fine and even jail time.

Brad Cheng is the digital editor of Global Cannabis Times, produced by SmartWork Media. Brad's journalism career spans working as an editor for PR Newswire, The Nation and The Santa Barbara News Press, and as Managing Editor of The Katy Courier, and publisher of Now This in Princeton. His career as a screenwriter took him into entertainment advertising, writing major film campaigns for studios and for HBO.



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