Marijuana must be used for true medical purposes, says Thai health minister


Recreational use of marijuana is likely to become a thing of the past in Thailand with a major policy shift under the new government.

New Public Health Minister Dr Cholnan Srikaew said cannabis is still a “narcotic”, citing the Public Health Ministry’s regulation that any extract with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of over 0.2% can be considered narcotic.

There is also a “high likelihood” that a draft bill on cannabis and hemp to be proposed by Srettha Thavisin’s government will include a clause that bans smoking weed for recreational purposes, a source familiar with the matter said.

The bill will add that clause to an existing draft legislation, which failed to be passed in Parliament during the previous House of Representative’s term, the source said.

In June 2022, cannabis was removed from Thailand’s list of banned narcotics, and the country became the first in Asia to effectively decriminalise hemp and marijuana.

Cholnan, formerly leader of the ruling coalition party Pheu Thai, said earlier this week that the Public Health Ministry would prevent “recreational, inappropriate and dangerous uses” of marijuana, so it is used “for true medical and health purposes”.

“It is not correct to say that marijuana is not a narcotic now. It is still a narcotic if it contains THC content of over 0.2%,” the minister said.

He added that the government will look into the existing bill on cannabis and weed to determine if it addressed all the concerns expressed by MPs over the past deliberations.

“There must be a law to regulate [the use of cannabis and hemp],” Cholnan said.

He also noted that the Constitution empowers the Cabinet to confirm draft laws that failed to pass Parliament during the previous Lower House’s term.

“If the Cabinet considers the law necessary, we will confirm it and start the process from the original draft. If the Cabinet does not confirm it, the original draft will be void, and a new bill will be drafted,” Cholnan said.

The public health minister would not confirm if the bill to be backed by the Cabinet would prohibit recreational marijuana smoking, but that was his party’s stance when it was in the opposition.

At that time, then-public health minister Anutin Charnvirakul removed cannabis from the list of controlled drugs. Anutin’s Bhumjaithai Party is now the second-largest partner in the 11-party coalition led by Cholnan’s Pheu Thai.

When in the opposition, Pheu Thai called for a review of the draft law on cannabis and hemp, which was backed by the Bhumjaithai Party, to avoid the “liberalisation of marijuana”.

The removal of marijuana from the narcotics list saw cannabis “dispensaries” mushrooming across Thailand, especially in tourist destinations.

The prevalence of these stores has been a big attraction to many young tourists looking for their first experience with weed and to many old-timers seeking to revive their old memories with marijuana, which is still illegal in most parts of the world.