A top Thailand official has a clear message to would-be tourists who are considering a cannabis-filled visit to the southeast Asian country: Don’t bother.
“We don’t welcome those kinds of tourists,” Thailand’s health minister Anutin Charnvirakul said Wednesday while talking to reporters, as quoted by CNN.
The country has been dealing with the repercussions of a new law passed in June that removed marijuana from its list of banned substances, making Thailand the first country in Asia to decriminalize weed. In 2018, Thailand became the first southeast Asian country to legalize medical cannabis.
The new policy unveiled in June made it legal to cultivate marijuana and hemp, and also opened the door for restaurants to offer food and beverage products infused with a small amount of THC.
But the law has also been shrouded in gray area. Anutin and other Thai government officials said at the time that the policy should not be construed as outright legalization of weed.
“It’s a no,” Anutin said in June. “We still have regulations under the law that control the consumption, smoking or use of cannabis products in non-productive ways.”
According to CNN, “those smoking in public risk facing a three-month jail sentence or fines of up to 25,000 baht ($705.82).”
“We [have always] emphasized using cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical purposes and for health,” Anutin continued. “There has never once been a moment that we would think about advocating people to use cannabis in terms of recreation — or use it in a way that it could irritate others.”
Anutin also issued a warning to potential tourists back in June.
“Thailand will promote cannabis policies for medical purposes,” said Anutin. “If [tourists] come for medical treatment or come for health-related products then it’s not an issue but if you think that you want to come to Thailand just because you heard that cannabis or marijuana is legal … [or] come to Thailand to smoke joints freely, that’s wrong. Don’t come. We won’t welcome you if you just come to this country for that purpose.”
But much to the chagrin of Anutin and the Thai government, recreational pot use has flourished in the two months since the law changed, with cannabis cafes sprouting up in the capital city of Bangkok this summer.
A report by Reuters earlier this month detailed how the newly enacted cannabis law “has led to an explosion in its recreational use,” despite the fact “that government officials – concerned about negative effects on health and productivity often linked to uncontrolled use of the drug – have retro[s]pectively tried to discourage.”
The news outlet highlighted one such cannabis cafe in Bangkok, whose owner touted the “hundreds” of visitors to his business every day.
“Europeans, Japanese, Americans – they are looking for Thai sativa,” the cafe owner said, as quoted by Reuters. “Cannabis and tourism are a match.”
The new cannabis law has drawn objections from other groups in Thailand.
Last month, more than 850 doctors in the country signed a petition demanding for more restrictions and safeguards attached to the law.
“Cannabis was removed from the Public Health Ministry’s Narcotic list on June 9, but no policies have been launched to control the use of cannabis for personal pleasure,” a spokesperson for the group of doctors said at the time. “This lack of [legal] direction makes cannabis more accessible for children and teenagers.”
The group said that the “government and related departments should stop threatening people’s health as soon as possible.”
“The use of cannabis for medical purposes should be under control for the best benefits and safety as the government claimed from the first place,” the group said.