Thailand Decriminalizes Cannabis, But Not Really

As of yesterday, June 9, 2022, the home cultivation of low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) cannabis in Thailand is legal. The government is giving away free plants to boot! This constitutes a milestone for cannabis reform in the country and the region at large, but the Thai changes fall short of the “decriminalization” widely touted in the press.

For one, cannabis extracts with a THC content exceeding 0.2% continue to be illegal. In addition, the recreational use of cannabis remains illegal, even in the case of low-THC cannabis. According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), “the new cannabis policies permit production and consumption solely for medical or health-related reasons; not recreational purposes.” The Thai health minister warned tourists to stay away if they are looking “to smoke joints freely.” Hardly the stuff of which Thai Stick dreams are made.

In any case, the changes are a step in the right direction for Thailand. The legalization of home cultivation should facilitate access to medical cannabis, which has been legal in Thailand since 2018. It should also spur entrepreneurship in the cannabis derivatives space. Looking at the big picture, the overall policy direction is encouraging. As the Bangkok Post put it,

the image of California-style weed dispensaries or people lighting up at the beach is not what the Thai government has in mind. Still, the law could change to promote recreational use in the future.

Thailand’s actions could also prompt decriminalization initiatives elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Once the country’s loosening of its cannabis laws starts translating into economic benefits, Thailand’s neighbors are bound to notice. What is more, these neighbors might look to improve on Thailand’s framework, by establishing a higher THC threshold for extracts. Perhaps some of them might even take bolder steps regarding adult-use cannabis, and actively welcome those tourists looking “to smoke joints freely.”

Updated to reflect TAT guidance.

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