Thailand's cannabis industry clouded as legal threats emerge

Months after Thailand became the first Asian country to decriminalize cannabis, cannabis-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 cannabis tourism.

Despite its rapid growth, Thailand’s cannabis industry is, in fact, walking a political tightrope. Businesses currently operate in a gray area due to a regulatory vacuum whereby the drug was decriminalized before lawmakers could agree on how to regulate the industry. Growing societal concerns about the impact of legalization also threaten to set back an industry that is estimated to be worth over $1 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 Rattapon Sanrak, founder of a cannabis advocacy group that runs Highland Cafe, a dispensary in Bangkok’s Lat Phrao area. “Criminalizing 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 the debate in September, arguing that it didn’t go far enough in banning adult use.

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