Thailand’s health minister on Wednesday discouraged tourists from visiting the country just to smoke, just two months after new laws were passed that have largely decriminalized the drug.
“We don’t welcome those types of tourists,” Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters when asked about the recreational use of marijuana among foreign visitors.
In 2018, Thailand became the first Southeast Asian country to legalize cannabis for medical use. In June, the entire plant was decriminalized, leading to widespread recreational use.
Despite government pleas against growth, cannabis businesses with separate smoking rooms have been slammed by locals and visitors alike.
But those who smoke in public risk facing a three-month prison sentence or fines of up to 25,000 baht ($705.82).
A staff member prepares cannabis for customers at Happy Bud, a cannabis truck on Bangkok’s Khaosan Road.
Anutin’s comments come even as foreign arrivals begin to increase in the tourism-dependent country. Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy expects 8 million to 10 million arrivals this year, up from an earlier forecast of 7 million.
Last year, the pandemic reduced foreign arrivals to just 428,000, compared with a record of nearly 40 million in 2019.
Thailand has focused its cannabis policy on the 28 billion baht ($790.29 million) industry built around its medicinal and health benefits.
Anutin said, however, recreational use could be explored once there is a better understanding of the drug.
“It may come in the near future,” he said.
Thailand’s policy on cannabis has also drawn interest from regional neighbors such as Malaysia, which is studying the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Main image: A jar of cannabis at a dispensary shop in Bangkok, Thailand on August 17, 2022. Credit: Athit Perawongmetha/REUTERS