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BANGKOK – Thailand’s leader on Wednesday vowed to restrict the use of cannabis to medical purposes after thousands of weed shops opened across the country since it became the first in Asia to decriminalise cannabis in 2022.
The government will seek to “rectify” its cannabis policy and the rampant growth of dispensaries that freely sell weed within a six-month timeframe, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Haslinda Amin on Wednesday in New York.
“The law will need to be rewritten,” he said.
“It needs to be rectified. We can have that regulated for medical use only,” he said, adding that there cannot be a middle ground for recreational use.
While Mr Srettha said there is a broad agreement among the 11-party coalition he heads about the need to restrict cannabis use, how exactly his administration will proceed remains unclear.
His Pheu Thai Party promoted a hard-line anti-drug campaign ahead of the May election and vowed to undo the landmark policy that decriminalises cannabis.
It is now in a coalition with the Bhumjaithai Party led by Mr Anutin Charnvirakul, who has vowed to press ahead with a plan to reintroduce a cannabis Bill in Parliament that seeks tighter monitoring of the industry but opposes classifying the plant as a drug again.
An ongoing regulatory vacuum, following the move to declassify marijuana as a narcotic, has led to the mushrooming of nearly 6,000 dispensaries all over Thailand.
They sell everything from cannabis buds to oil extracts containing less than 0.2 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol – the psychoactive compound that gives users a “high” sensation.
Thai farmers are also allowed to freely grow cannabis after registering with the nation’s Food and Drug Administration. Local dispensary owners have also complained about unbridled imports and depressed prices.
The cannabis industry was unfazed by the move to reimpose controls.
The medical benefits of cannabis already blur the lines between health and recreational use, effectively rendering any ban on leisure use unfeasible, said Mr Poonwarit Wangpatravanich, president of the Phuket Cannabis Association.
“More regulation will be good as we don’t want a free-for-all anyway,” he said.
“Cannabis is here to stay, but in what status is not yet clear.”
Classifying cannabis as a narcotic again, as opposed to regulating the industry, will risk pushing recreational use underground where there will be even less control, said Mr Rattapon Sanrak, founder of cannabis advocacy group Highland Network.
Mr Srettha’s government has vowed to “eradicate” drugs from Thai society, with the Prime Minister saying he will “decisively reduce” the menace within a year while presiding over an event to destroy narcotics that were confiscated by the authorities earlier this week.
Thailand is considered the main conduit for drug trafficking along South-east Asia’s vast Mekong River valley, with enforcement agencies perceived to often turn a blind eye.
South-east Asia’s organised crime economy, including the illicit trade in drugs and wildlife, was worth an estimated US$130 billion (S$178 billion) in 2019, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes.
“The problem of drug has been widespread lately, especially in the north-eastern and northern parts of Thailand,” Mr Srettha said.
“And we don’t need another issue added on top of that.”