How Thailand’s cannabis legalization U-turn impacts the industry

Thailand’s booming cannabis industry is under a cloud as politicians reconsider decriminalization. The legal uncertainty surrounding cannabis in Thailand is sapping confidence in an industry that flourished in the year following decriminalization.

At the center of attention is Pita Limjaroenrat, the prime minister-in-waiting whose Move Forward Party (MPF) scored an upset to come first place in last month’s general elections. While MFP is widely viewed as the most liberal of Thailand’s political parties, cannabis advocates say it is leading the drive to rein in recreational use, casting a pall over the country’s multibillion-dollar cannabis industry.

Pita now says the cannabis boom should be put on pause to curb widespread recreational use until the incoming government can pass a proposed Cannabis Act to draw clear lines on where the drug can be sold and consumed. That chimes with the views of Pita’s alliance of eight parties, some of which hail from the conservative Muslim-majority southern provinces of Thailand, that are trying to form a government over the coming weeks.

As the politicians bicker, cannabis advocates are increasingly upset about the clouds gathering over their industry. “I started this [Ganja TV] in 2019, hoping to be a media platform to educate people about the benefits of medical marijuana,” K Lert, the editor of Ganja TV, told Al Jazeera. “Now everyone is worried about kids being exposed to cannabis, yet they haven’t passed the Cannabis Act to stop that happening. It makes no sense.”

For investors, the legal uncertainty has sapped confidence in an industry that flourished in the year following decriminalization. Today the cannabis industry in Thailand is under threat, and industry insiders are calling on the government to provide guidelines so that businesses can operate with certainty. This lack of clarity could have a severe impact on the industry’s growth, and it remains to be seen whether the government will provide a framework that allows the industry to thrive.

Despite these challenges, there are still opportunities for the cannabis industry in Thailand, particularly in the medical cannabis market. The Thai cannabis market was worth 28 billion baht ($800 million) at the end of 2022 and projected to grow to 31.8 billion baht this year. By 2025, the market will be worth 42.9 billion baht. However, only time will tell if this promising sector will go up in smoke.

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