(CNN) — Thailand’s new government is moving to pass a new law banning cannabis for recreational use, a major blow 18 months after the country became the first country in Asia to decriminalize the plant.
The relaxation of laws led to the growth of a lucrative cannabis industry serving locals and foreigners alike throughout the Southeast Asian nation, but a new conservative coalition government came to power late last year and plans to tighten regulations and restrict cannabis-only Promised to allow the use of. Doctor.
Thailand’s Health Ministry published a draft law on Tuesday that calls for hefty fines or up to a year in prison, or both, for violators.
The bill states that cannabis and cannabis-related products will be limited to medical and health purposes only, reiterating Prime Minister Shretha Thavisin’s promise in September that her new government would “reform” cannabis laws over the next six months.
Smoking marijuana in public is illegal even under lax laws, but proposed new laws would ban advertising and marketing campaigns for cannabis buds, extracts and other cannabis products.
An earlier bill had failed to win parliamentary approval in November.
Thavisin expressed his opinion on the prohibition of recreational cannabis in several media interviews, saying that drug abuse “is a big problem for Thailand.”
CNN has contacted Thailand’s Health Minister Cholnan Srikaew for further comment on the new proposal.
Thailand became the first country in Asia to completely decriminalize cannabis in June 2022, a move that has been years in the making and is rare in the region where many countries give long prison sentences to people convicted of marijuana possession, consumption or trafficking. and even the death penalty.
In nearby Hong Kong, non-psychoactive cannabidol (CBD) is also banned.
Singapore carries the death penalty for drug trafficking, and residents traveling to Thailand are warned that they may still be prosecuted upon returning if they smoke marijuana abroad.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Thailand since 2018, but in 2022 decriminalization went a step further, making it no longer a crime to grow and market marijuana and hemp products, or use parts of the plant to treat diseases. Is.
Since then, thousands of cannabis dispensaries have opened across Thailand, as well as other cannabis-related businesses such as marijuana cafes, hemp spas and beauty treatments. Marijuana festivals have also been held in cities such as Chiang Mai and the capital Bangkok, and decriminalization has been a big draw for tourists.
But former Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who pushed hard for cannabis legalization in the country, previously told CNN that the intention was never to allow Thais and tourists to smoke marijuana in public.
“Thailand will promote cannabis policies for medical purposes. “There was never a time when we thought about recommending that people use cannabis recreationally or using it in a way that would cause irritation to others,” Anutin said.
“We have always emphasized the use of hemp extracts and raw materials for health and medical purposes.”
Supporters of the law have argued that Thailand’s cannabis boom has helped many Thais, from farmers to small business owners to workers behind the counter.
Cannabis entrepreneurs previously told CNN they are strongly against any legalization that would harm the growing billion-dollar industry.
Future Cannabis Network, an advocacy group in Thailand, expressed disappointment at the government’s actions and stressed the importance of “public participation”.
Bangkok-based cannabis entrepreneur Kitty Chopaka, who has pushed for cannabis legalization for years, called it a sudden reaction from the government and said it was “not unexpected.”
“But whatever happens with the new cannabis regulations, it is already too late for cannabis to be classified as a narcotic again.”