Cannabis legality not a sure bet in Thailand following historic election

Photo of Thai beach with boats.

Thailand was the first Asian country to decriminalize cannabis, opening up medical sales and encouraging citizens to grow their own hemp plants. The country’s leaders do not condone recreational use but rather, hope to bolster the economy with a new export crop while reducing prison capacity. Over 80 percent of Thai prisoners in 2021 were there due to drug-related crimes.

Thai Health Minister and Bhumjaithai Party Prime Minister candidate Anutin Charnvirakul, spearheaded the efforts to decriminalize the plant in 2022. Bhumjaithai became a junior partner to the governing pro-military coalition in the 2019 election.

Following action sparked by Charnvirakul, growing, processing, and consuming plants testing 0.2% THC or below in the country is legal. Since decriminalization, Thai conservatives have become wary of increased consumption.

In the recent election, Charnvirakul ran on a platform to tighten regulations on medical cannabis to cut down on recreational use. This year, Charnvirakul elected to cast his vote in a cannabis leaf printed button-up shirt, as reported by The Bangkok Post.

This is Thailand’s first election since the 2020-2021 uprising against Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and, ultimately, the Thai monarchy. The initial conflict erupted following the dissolution of Chan-o-cha’s main opposition, the Future Forward Party.

Though cannabis regulation is a main running point for Charnvirakul, opposing candidates like those from The Move Forward Party focused instead on demilitarizing, decentralizing, and demonopolizing Thailand. The Move Forward party advocates removing forced military enlistment and achieving marriage equality.

“Take military out of politics so that we don’t have military coup every seven years on average,” Move Forward Party candidate Pita Limjaronet told NPR.

Move Forward opposed decriminalizing cannabis, however, promising to reclassify the plant as a narcotic–making it available for medical use only.

Opposing parties like Move Forward are forecasted to finish strongly against military parties like the current party in power, the United Thai Nation Party–leaving Charnvirakul and the Bhumjaithai party to finish around third to fifth against competitors. Final results should be available within the next few weeks.

Though they did not make it into top contention, Bhumjaithai won 12.77 percent of votes, outperforming predictions by securing 19 seats for the party.

Despite Charnvirakul’s festive shirt, it is unlikely that Thai officials will be promoting cannabis tourism anytime soon.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.