Last updated on January 16th, 2024 at 10:03 am
- Thailand’s Journey to Cannabis Legalization
- Understanding THC Extracts and Cannabis Products
- Understanding Medicinal and Recreational Use
- Public Consumption of Cannabis in Thailand
- Restrictions and Online Sales
- Driving and Cannabis Use
- Inclusivity for Foreigners
- Growing Cannabis in Thailand for Personal Use
- Commercial Aspects of Growing
- Air Travel with Cannabis
- Protecting Thai Cannabis Interests
- The Why Behind Legalization
- Dispelling Misinformation
- Thailand’s Commitment to Cannabis Reform
- The Future of Cannabis in Thailand
- New Government, New Cannabis Laws
Since Thailand’s unanimous vote in November 2018 to legalize cannabis for medicinal use, the buzz around Thailand’s approach to legalization has been unceasing. This article aims to clarify the evolving cannabis laws in Thailand, providing accurate and helpful information for both locals and tourists.
Thailand’s Journey to Cannabis Legalization
The path to legalization was marked by contradictions and delays, but on June 9, 2022, Thailand made a significant move by legalizing cannabis for most uses. While officially for medicinal purposes, the law now permits possession of any part of the cannabis plant, including buds, without legal penalties. This development has led some activists to describe it as a de facto legalization of recreational use.
Understanding THC Extracts and Cannabis Products
It’s important to note that THC extracts with over 0.2% THC content remain classified as a Category 5 narcotic. Products likely considered as extracts include THC oils (available by medical prescription), shatter, waxes, budder/badder wax, and edibles not using plant buds or leaves.
Understanding Medicinal and Recreational Use
One aspect of Thailand’s cannabis laws that are often difficult for foreigners to understand are the distinctions between recreational and medicinal use.
Thailand legalized medicinal use only. However, they implemented no policies to distinguish between recreational and medicinal use so medicinal use has been considered essentially legal.
Yet, in the media, Thai politicians insist that only medicinal use is permitted.
It’s helpful to look at this from the perspective of Thai politicians to better understand why they seem so caught up in this distinction.
Most polling shows that Thais are very supportive of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Thailand has a long, rich history with cannabis as a medicine using it as a remedy for everything from pain from toiling away in the fields to helping with menstrual cramps.
Before legalization, most Thais viewed cannabis for recreational purposes cautiously. Much like the rest of the world, most Thais, have been hearing anti-cannabis propaganda their entire lives so all of the negative stereotypes are familiar and ingrained into their thinking on the subject.
The overtness of 6,000+ dispensaries opening across the country has many Thais concerned. Even many tourists are taken aback by the sheer quantity of dispensaries in tourist areas.
It has probably done the cannabis industry no favors that so many dispensaries focus so heavily on the typical stoner visuals in their branding. Whether it’s graffiti-style logos or 420 road signs in the windows, the optics don’t send a message of healing to those who have yet to embrace cannabis culture.
That means that by insisting that it is only for medicinal use, Thai politicians can support a new industry while also distancing themselves from the negative aspects.
The new Pheu Thai government seems to be exploiting that grey area very effectively for their benefit. They have spoken out very harshly about recreational use while saying that they fully support medicinal use.
They will need to deliver some new laws that target recreational use in some manner without rocking the boat too much with Thais who see commercial or medical possibilities for cannabis.
In the meantime, there is no legal difference between recreational and medicinal, and no matter how many times Thai politicians say “medicinal use only” there is nothing preventing someone from using it for recreational purposes.
Public Consumption of Cannabis in Thailand
Smoking cannabis in public places is regulated similarly to tobacco, with escalating penalties for repeated offenses. Dispensaries are also regulated, allowing on-site consumption only in the presence of a licensed medical professional.
It is important to keep in mind that the current laws regarding the public consumption of cannabis are public nuisance laws, not drug laws.
Contrary to misreporting in both the local and international media, you will not be fined or thrown in jail for smoking a joint in public.
Think of the law as someone playing their stereo too loud. If no one is around to hear it, there is no public nuisance. If their neighbor is home trying to sleep, now it has become a potential public nuisance if the neighbor is annoyed by the loud music. If they call the police, the police will come and ask the person playing the loud music to turn it down. If the person refuses to turn down the music, then the police may take further action.
The same applies to public consumption of cannabis. If you’re walking down a deserted beach smoking a joint, there’s no public nuisance. If you’re smoking a joint outside of a preschool, you’re probably creating a public nuisance from the perspective of parents, school officials, and concerned members of the public.
If someone’s usage has resulted in someone filing a complaint, the person will be given a warning for the first offense. A second offense carries a 2,000 baht (approximately USD 60) fine and a jail term of up to 30 days. The maximum penalty for multiple offenses is 25,000 baht fine and up to 3 months in jail.
If you want to steer clear of any problems with consuming cannabis in public, stop if someone asks you to stop.
In terms of smoking in buildings, this has been illegal for many years. You can see signs in most public buildings specifying the amount one can be fined. While some bars and other businesses ignore this law, the law still exists. Similarly, many dispensaries provide smoking areas for customers but, in most cases, they are illegal under Thai law.
Restrictions and Online Sales
The laws set clear boundaries on cannabis use and sales. Sales are prohibited to individuals under 20, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers. All sales are subject to taxation, with guidelines expected in the future. Notably, online sales and advertising of cannabis products are banned, aligning with Thailand’s restrictions on alcohol.
Driving and Cannabis Use
The government emphasizes that driving under the influence of cannabis will incur strict penalties, akin to alcohol or other drug-related DUI offenses.
Inclusivity for Foreigners
Foreign nationals in Thailand face no additional restrictions on medical marijuana use beyond those applicable to Thai citizens.
Growing Cannabis in Thailand for Personal Use
Any Thai citizen can grow cannabis for personal, medicinal use. While registration via the Plook Ganja app or local government agencies is requested, there are currently no penalties for non-compliance.
Technically, foreigners are prohibited from growing cannabis. The current cannabis law only offers permission to grow to the landowner and since foreigners cannot own land in Thailand, that essentially prevents foreigners from legally growing.
Second, if done for any commercial purpose (selling to dispensaries or to the public), that would be considered labor which requires a work permit regardless of the amount grown.
Commercial Aspects of Growing
Commercial growers must obtain appropriate approvals and licenses. Importing cannabis seeds is permissible with government permission, adhering to existing agricultural laws. Importing cannabis extracts, however, is tightly controlled due to THC content regulations.
In a bit of a twist, it may be easier for foreigners to be involved in commercial cannabis cultivation as, under a corporate structure, foreigners can obtain work permits and the land would belong to the corporation rather than a foreign individual.
Those wishing to sell cannabis to the public must obtain a license from the Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine (DTAM).
The requirements for a dispensary license are:
- Must be a Thai national over 20 years of age
- Must own or lease the building to be used for cannabis sales. If leased, the owner of the building must agree that the building is being used for the purpose of selling cannabis.
- Must apply under a corporate entity, with 2/3 of the shareholders and directors being Thai citizens
- Pay 20 baht application fee
- Pay a 3,000 baht license fee (good for 3-years)
Air Travel with Cannabis
Domestic air travel with cannabis is permitted within normal luggage restrictions. This has been confirmed by the AOT (Airports of Thailand), multiple news sources, reports from people who have openly carried cannabis through airport security, and the Thai police.
International travel with cannabis is a different story. First, because it is illegal to export cannabis from Thailand without a permit, and secondly because Thailand has no way of knowing where your plane may or may not land before arriving at its final destination.
For instance, if you board a plane from Thailand where cannabis is legal, and are flying to a country where cannabis is also legal, many people assume they can fly with cannabis. But, what if there is a mechanical problem with the plane that forces it to land in a country where cannabis is not only illegal but carries stiff penalties like Singapore or Indonesia? You could face not only drug possession charges but possibly even drug trafficking charges which in some countries still include the death penalty as a possible sentence.
Protecting Thai Cannabis Interests
In early 2019, Thailand revoked foreign cannabis-related patent requests to safeguard local interests and prevent monopolization by international corporations.
The Why Behind Legalization
Thailand’s pivot towards cannabis legalization reflects a return to its historical use in traditional medicine and agriculture. Influenced by global trends and the potential economic benefits, Thailand aims to become a key player in the global cannabis market.
Contrary to some claims, the law does not limit legalization to cannabis with less than 0.2% THC content. This specification applies only to extracts. The Thai legal system’s broad interpretation of laws allows for a more nuanced approach to cannabis regulation.
Also contrary to many claims in the media, smoking in public is not illegal. Causing a public nuisance via smoking in public is illegal. That’s a big difference as one implies that the mere act of smoking is illegal whereas the other targets whether or not someone has been offended by it.
Thailand’s Commitment to Cannabis Reform
In a move underscoring its commitment to reformed cannabis policies, Thailand released approximately 4,000 inmates incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses. Additionally, there have been reports of the police returning confiscated cannabis, further indicating a shift in enforcement attitudes.
The Future of Cannabis in Thailand
While the initial unrestricted legalization raised concerns, subsequent regulations have been largely reasonable and focused on public health and safety. Thailand’s drug policy is gradually shifting from punitive measures to treatment and rehabilitation, especially for amphetamine-related offenses.
New Government, New Cannabis Laws
The Bhumjaithai Party, a member of the Prayut government coalition, was the primary backer of legalizing cannabis in Thailand. In May of 2023, Thailand held new elections which ultimately resulted in the Pheu Thai Party being the ruling party and Bhumjaithai was offered a role in the new government.
However, the Minister of Public Health job was reassigned from Bhumjaithai’s leader and given to Cholnan Srikaew from the Pheu Thai Party.
The Pheu Thai Party campaigned very heavily on an anti-cannabis platform and said that it is committed to eliminating the recreational use of cannabis in Thailand.
The new Minister of Public Health has taken up drafting a cannabis bill to replace the cannabis bill that was stalled in 2022 and 2023 by the upcoming elections.
So far, leaks of various portions of the bill seem to follow Bhumjaithai’s commitment to making cannabis available for medicinal use but also draw tighter boundaries around recreational use.
The latest statements from Cholnan indicate they may consider medical approval before people are allowed to purchase cannabis.
However, the bill has not been formally submitted to parliament as of this writing and pro-cannabis advocates are lobbying heavily to include their thoughts before the bill is sent to the legislature.