BANGKOK – Months after Thailand became the first Asian country to decriminalise cannabis, weed-related businesses are already changing its cityscapes.
Neon-lit signs with cannabis leaves are now a common sight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and the drug is seeping into everything from food to drinks and cosmetics, bolstered by the promise of revenue from weed tourism.
Despite its rapid growth, Thailand’s cannabis industry is, in fact, walking a political tightrope. Businesses currently operate in a grey area due to a regulatory vacuum whereby the drug was decriminalised before lawmakers could agree on how to regulate the industry.
Growing societal concerns about the impact of legalisation also threaten to set back an industry that is estimated to be worth over US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) by 2025.
“This is just about politics now. The government has come this far, but then the coalition parties now want to go back,” said Mr Rattapon Sanrak, founder of a cannabis advocacy group that runs Highland Cafe, a dispensary in Bangkok’s Lat Phrao area. “Criminalising it again would just force everything back underground, and entrepreneurs who want to do it right wouldn’t be able to.”
Lawmakers are expected to resume debate on a draft cannabis Bill that was designed to give the government more control over the industry as early as next week. The Bill stalled after several legislators voted to withdraw it from debate in September, arguing that it did not go far enough in banning recreational use.
The government has repeatedly said since June that decriminalisation was aimed at medical and commercial use for marijuana rather than recreational purposes. Though the draft Bill did not directly outlaw recreational smoking, it said lighting up in public will be prohibited.
Other restrictions include bans on causing unpleasant smells in public, selling to pregnant women or people under 20 and commercial advertising.