Thailand announced cannabis to be legal, it’s complicated: and travellers need to know what is allowed

Thailand, not long ago a country with some of the strictest drug policies in the world, is getting into the weed game.

In June, Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration removed marijuana and hemp from the Category 5 narcotics list, meaning that these substances are essentially decriminalized.

In practice, this change in legislation grants Thais the ability to grow and sell marijuana for medical use, which according to the government, will ultimately position Thailand as an “herbal hub” in Southeast Asia.

But there are, of course, caveats.

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Products for food or medicine must contain very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the main hallucinogenic compound in marijuana), and recreational use of marijuana, including smoking in public, is still not legal (more on this later). And although marijuana is no longer considered an illegal substance by the Thai authorities, they have yet to draft legislation that regulates its trade, making buying and selling it at the moment, rather confusing.

Since the announcement in June, Thais have taken full advantage of this legal gray area. As you read this, on Bangkok’s Khao San Road, streetside tables are groaning under the weight of piles of buds that far exceed the legal THC cap; in Chiang Mai, a tourist is probably sipping on a high-octane marijuana-laced cocktail; and somewhere on a Thai island, bongs are being ripped in public. Technically speaking, all of these scenarios are illegal. But up to this point at least, they’ve been tolerated.

So what does this mean for people visiting Thailand? Here’s what we know at this point.

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Marijuana buds on display in a cannabis pop-up truck at the iconic Khaosan Road, Bangkok, Thailand, July 2022 © Nelson Antoine / Shutterstock

The medicinal use of marijuana is legal

Medical cannabis was legalized in Thailand in 2018, making it the first country in Asia to approve marijuana for medicinal and industrial use.

According to Thai law, extracted cannabis content must contain less than 0.2% THC – generally considered a very small amount of the stuff that gets you high. If you’re visiting Thailand and require this level of THC or less for medicinal use, you can seek out a prescription at one of a network of approved hospitals and clinics. Use your legally-obtained marijuana product in private, and you’re good to go.

Recent updates to this legislation prohibit people under the age of 20, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers from possessing and using cannabis unless they have a doctor’s permission. And there’s also great (or bad?) news for Buddhist monks and novices: Thailand’s Sangha Supreme Council has banned Buddhist monks and novices from smoking or growing cannabis but is allowing them to use it to treat illnesses.

Yet decriminalization means that unlicensed vendors feel bold enough to openly sell products that far exceed the government’s THC limit. If you want to play it safe, especially as a guest in Thailand, it’s probably a wise idea to buy and use your medicinal THC products within the approved channels of network-approved hospitals and clinics.

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Eating & drinking marijuana

Likewise, the law states that food and beverage products that contain cannabis – again, those strictly for medical purposes – must contain less than 0.2% THC, although on the streets of Thailand, these rules are being flouted.

Since June, an array of food and beverage businesses have taken advantage of decriminalization by offering cannabis-laced food items and drinks: one company has debuted a cannabis-infused fish sauce while drinks with marijuana-derived ingredients are already for sale at the country’s convenience stores. Yet a recent study by Thailand’s top university found that 30% of these products exceed the government’s THC cap.

Although technically not legal, eating and drinking marijuana is, admittedly, a less risky way to get your buzz on than smoking it, which carries significantly more scrutiny (as well as potential fines or jail time; see below).

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The ins and outs of recreational use of marijuana

Although much of the marijuana use in Thailand that has followed decriminalization is recreational, and given that people are increasingly using it in an open and public way, this doesn’t mean it’s legal.

Despite the ground-breaking legislative changes, the Thai government remains uncomfortable with people smoking marijuana in public. In an effort to curb this, authorities recently unearthed the 1992 Public Health Act, which prohibits any “act of public disturbance” resulting from smoke and/or smell. Violators of this law can face a 25,000 baht (around $690) fine and three months of imprisonment.

Thailand’s Public Health Minister recently said that further liberalization of cannabis for recreational use is possible in the future, but for now, it’s wisest for visitors to Thailand to keep their recreational marijuana use on the down low, meaning, quite simply, don’t do it in public.

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Can I bring my own cannabis products to Thailand now?

No. According to the guidelines set out by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, products containing cannabis and hemp extracts, and hemp-derived products, as well as any parts of cannabis and hemp with more than 0.2% THC still fall under the Category 5 Narcotics list. Meaning that most likely you run a very high risk in bringing your favorite gummies into Thailand.

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