Thailand is set to outlaw weed just 18 months after the country decriminalized the drug, following a spike in hospital admissions and crime linked to cannabis.
Since June 2022, when marijuana was dropped as a controlled substance, hospitalizations for cannabis-induced psychological problems have doubled to 63,000 patients per year in the country.
Reports of drug-fueled violence and abuse have also surged, while reports of children being able to purchase the drug continue to rise.
Thailand became the first country in the southeast asia to legalize marijuana in 2019, when the Bhumjaithai party promised it would be a lucrative cash crop for poor farmers in the north — who traditionally rely on rice and rubber to make ends meet.
Thailand has faced many repercussions after dropping weed as a controlled substance, which is leading to the country now tightening up its laws
Bangkok (left) and Phuket (right): The Above maps show how two popular tourist areas in Thailand have now been completely swamped with weed shops
But the decriminalization has given rise to a large un-regulated black market.
Data shows more than 6,000 shops have sprouted in the country, many without licenses.
There has also been a boom in tourists visiting the country to use marijuana recreationally, helping to fund cannabis-themed cafes and hemp spas.
In response, the country’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has named weed a ‘big problem’ and vowed to take action — after being elected in August 2023.
Top officials are now proposing a bill that would make using cannabis ‘for entertainment or pleasure’ a crime punishable with a $1,700 fine (60,000 baht) and a jail sentence of up to one year.
It comes as the US faces similar problems, with thousands of weed shops — many unregulated — springing up in many major cities amid reports of spikes in psychological problems and addiction among youths.
Last week, the country’s health minister Chonlanan Srikaew revealed he had recommended a draft bill that would ban recreational cannabis.
‘We drafted this law to prohibit the wrong usage of cannabis,’ health minister Srikaew said previously.
‘All recreational use is wrong.’
Marijuana is typically considered to be a low-risk drug, but consistent use can drive up a myriad of health risks including major depression, poor sleep, and dependence
The above shows cannabis use across American states. Twenty-one states and DC have legalized it for recreational use in addition to medicinal use, while nearly all now allow it to be used for medicinal purposes
The new bill would impose stringent fines and possible jail sentences for people found to be using the drug recreationally if it becomes law.
In Thailand, it is already illegal to smoke weed in public, which carries a fine of $700 (25,000 baht).
Officially, recreational use of weed is illegal in the country. But in practice, poor regulation has led to many accessing the drug without a medical prescription.
Data shows that among those aged 20 to 29 years old the proportion using weed more than tripled from one percent to three percent by 2021 — before regulations were eased. This figure is now likely to be much higher, officials say.
Data from the country’s health ministry shows the number of Thais seeking treatment for medical issues jumped from 37,000 in 2022 to as many as 63,000 in 2023, a rise of more than 70 percent.
There are also anecdotal reports of rising crime rates and spikes in drug-related violence.
The Thai bill will need to be approved by Cabinet, voted through by Parliament and signed by the country’s king Maha Vajiralongkorn before it becomes law. But it already enjoys broad support across the country’s political parties.
A total of 24 US states have now legalized marijuana for recreational use, with red-leaning Ohio becoming the latest in November last year.
No state has reversed legalization yet, but there has been a shift in the public mood — with Americans in many states now voting down measures to legalize recreational cannabis.
This included Oklahoma, which rejected the proposal in March last year despite cannabis companies spending more than $4.9million on advertizing.
The US federal Government is currently considering reducing marijuana to Schedule III substance — on a par with steroids, ketamine and testosterone. At present, it is regulated as a Schedule I substance — on the same level as heroin, ecstasy and LSD which are drugs deemed to have a high likelihood of abuse and no medical uses.
Thailand dropped cannabis from its list of controlled substances in June 2022 — instead labeling it as a ‘controlled herb’.
This allowed for locals to grow and trade marijuana and hemp products as long as they had a license.
The move was aimed at providing poor farmers in the north with a new cash crop, as they traditionally rely on rubber and rice which have low value.
But it has been poorly regulated — leading to an explosion of weed shops across the country.
Cities like Chiang Mai and the capital Bangkok now even hold weed festivals — while tourists from nearby countries where the drug is illegal, like Japan and Singapore, have started to visit in droves.
The drug was legal to sell only to those over 20 years old and who were not pregnant or were not trying to purchase the drug online — and who were using it for medical purposes, for which marijuana was legalized in 2019.
‘Kitty’ Chopaka, a Thai cannabis rights activist, told NPR: ‘You can go ask any Thai on the side of the road, going like, what do you think about medical cannabis? Everyone will go, this is great, fully support it.
‘But then if you go into — what about sales, what about recreational use? There’s still a — we’re not so sure.’
The Biden administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has asked the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to downgrade cannabis from a Schedule I substance to a Schedule III substance
Marijuana was previously lauded for its benefits for pain relief and anxiety treatment, with many insisting it was not addictive.
But the drug is now stronger than it has ever been, with higher levels of THC — the psychoactive chemical in the drug — which experts say flood the brain with feel-good chemicals and trigger addiction.
Many have also started to take the drug daily, triggering addiction and dependence that is not easily shaken.
Previous studies have already linked marijuana to schizophrenia, psychosis and depression.
Some have also suggested that it permanently changes the brains of young adults who use the drug — with the brain not maturing until someone reaches their late 20s.