Thailand is facing major issues after legalising cannabis before putting regulations in place with comments suggesting it won’t be easy to ‘put the genie back in the bottle.’

Marking a first for Asia, Thailand removed cannabis from its list of narcotics on June 9th, making its import, export, production, distribution, consumption and possession legal. Anyone can now grow the plant at home, after registering with the government via a mobile app, though commercial growers still need to apply for permits.


Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who championed the plan, has tried to dissuade people from lighting up for fun, stressing the plant’s medical virtues and its potential as a cash crop. His ministry warns that anyone smoking cannabis in public can still be charged with causing a “nuisance,” and either fined or imprisoned for up to three months.

“Problems occur due to the abuse of cannabis. This is not the aim of liberalising the use of the plant; we want to promote medical use and boost the income of growers,” said Anutin.

But others in the government, and in his own ministry, say the move was premature.  Somsak Akksilp, who heads Thailand’s Medical Services Department under Anutin, said he worried that legalising cannabis without laws actually restricting it to medical use, and even then to adults only, could spur the recreational use he opposes.


“That’s why I [have] said other authorities should try to issue the regulations as soon as possible [to] try to restrict the use of cannabis for medical cannabis,” he says.

“Because we know that there is two sides of the coin, the good and the bad,” he added. “We don’t know enough about cannabis, so we have to learn.”

In a June 14th, Mana Nimitmongkol, the head of the Thai government’s Anti-Corruption Organisation, complained of the move to legalise cannabis without any controls “other than word of mouth.”

Much of the concern has focused a coming tide of cannabis use among children and adolescents. The day after cannabis went legal, Thailand’s Royal College of Pediatricians issued an open letter urging the government to ban the use of cannabis and cannabis-laced products among those under 20 years of age without a physician’s approval.

Anutin has signed an order adding cannabis to Thailand’s Traditional Medical Wisdom Protection and Promotion Act, denying the plant to not only adolescents but also pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.

The Ministry of Education has also issued regulations aimed at preventing abuse of cannabis and hemp among students and teaching staff.

Somsak said the piecemeal steps can help, to a degree.  “This is not through the law itself; it’s a kind of … canton regulation,” he said. “If you want it to be the full regulation by law, you have to issue [it] by the parliament.”

A Cannabis and Hemp Bill meant to limit the plant’s use passed its first reading in parliament on June 8th but may have to wait weeks or months for the second and third readings it will need to become law.


The various rules agencies are imposing may help clear up what people now can and can’t do with cannabis. “But … it’s still confusing,” said Rasmon Kalayasiri, director of the Center for Addiction Studies at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University.

By legalising cannabis use before legislating its boundaries, “it’s like we’re chasing the problem” instead of “preventing the problem,” she added.

Rasmon said her center’s own research suggests recreational cannabis use among 18 to 19-year-olds has doubled to about 2% of the age group since 2019. With the government now vigorously pushing the herb’s health benefits, she worries it will keep rising among adolescents and adults alike, and with it the health problems that afflict up to 1 in 10 habitual users, including addiction and psychosis.

“I think the public is very confused by this for sure,” Taopiphop Limjittrakorn, a lawmaker for the opposition Move Forward party, said of the government’s cannabis rollout.


Taopiphop says he supports laws that would ban access to children and adolescents and force edible cannabis venders to display the doses of intoxicating tetrahydrocannabinol in their products. But he also favours recreational use, and doubts the government can now expect to rein it in having legalised cannabis before putting any strong checks in place. 

“If you release the tiger to the jungle, it’s hard [to make it] come back,” he said.