What’s the deal with smoking weed in Thailand?
Spend any time in a tourist hub in Thailand and you’ll probably spot someone smoking weed. The distinctive smell drifts across beaches, cafés and hostels across the country. Travelers openly pass joints in public with no apparent concern at all.
But hang on, isn’t it illegal? Aren’t there some pretty serious punishments for smoking weed in Thailand?
Hell yes! Please don’t be fooled into thinking that drug use is legal in Thailand. It’s really not, and historically the penalties have been some of the most severe in the world.
We absolutely do not condone illegal drug use. This article is for information and education purposes, as it’s a side of the country that many are curious about. If you’re caught using drugs then your embassy probably won’t help you, and the Thai prison system is famously not a fun place to be…
The Penalties can be Severe for Smoking Weed in Thailand
As an unwilling member of the infamous ‘Golden Triangle’ drug zone of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, Thailand has always taken a harsh stance on illegal substances. Historically the death penalty has been used for people caught trafficking drugs, albeit for possession of class A. Substances like heroin rather than the odd bit of cannabis.
Nonetheless, being caught using or possessing comes with its own hefty punishments. If you get caught with a sizeable amount of cannabis, up to 10kg, then you could be looking at five years in prison and/or a 50,000 baht fine. If you happen to be hauling more than 10kg around then it could be up to 15 years in prison, plus a fine of anywhere between 20,000 to 150,000 baht, and more fool you!
Reggae Bars in Southern Thailand
One of the biggest elements of the traveler social scene in Thailand are the reggae bars across the south of the country. If you head to pretty much any beach at sunset then you’ll encounter the familiar strains of Bob Marley on repeat, enticing you to grab a rum cocktail and watch the sun sink to the horizon. And what else is on offer in these places? Weed, of course, in lots of different forms.
These bars aren’t high-class affairs, quite the opposite. They’re the kind of places you can rock up barefoot, dig your toes into the sand, sink a few drinks and relax. If you want to imagine the vibe then think Dazed and Confused meets Castaway- all wooden beach shacks and sand, with no pretensions at all. The décor normally looks like a mix of whatever’s washed up on the shoreline that week!
The surprising thing is that the offer of weed is pretty open here. We’re not just talking about someone approaching you and quietly asking you if you want some. We’re talking about official, laminated printed menus!
These bars will sell you bags of weed, pre-rolled joints mixed with tobacco, pre-rolled blunts with no tobacco, you name it and you can get it. You’ll often find magic mushrooms on these menus too, under the guise of ‘happy’ shakes and pizzas. That’s a whole different story though.
So should you take advantage of these bars and smoke weed in Thailand? Well, as we’ve made abundantly clear, weed is illegal. Just because these bars have printed menus doesn’t mean that drug use is safe. There are plenty of foreigners sitting behind bars in Thailand who have gambled on that fact and lost.
The History of Smoking Weed in Thailand
Thailand isn’t unusual in punishing the use of weed, but it hasn’t always been illegal. Cannabis grows naturally in many parts of the country due to great conditions. Up until the start of the 20th century local people were allowed to do what they wanted with it. Cannabis tea and dried cannabis were widely used medicinally and as a relaxant, and no one batted an eyelid.
That all changed in 1912, when Thailand became a signatory to the League of Nations International Opium Convention. One of the conditions of signing was legislating against drugs, and the days of legal cannabis were numbered. In 1922 the country went even further with the Narcotics Act which formed the basis of the first explicit anti-drug laws.
It took until 1937 for cannabis to become fully criminalized, with the Marijuana Act imposing a fine of 500 baht. That’s for anyone caught buying or even possessing marijuana! That doesn’t sound like much now but it was a huge amount back then!
Medical marijuana in Thailand
The last chapter in the story of smoking weed in Thailand is the recent legalization of cannabis for medical grounds. It’s really important to emphasize that this isn’t a way to circumvent the law- medical use has to be proven and verified by a doctor, so telling the police officer who’s trying to shake you down on a beach that your use is medicinal definitely won’t work!
Medical use has been approved for quite a wide range of conditions, including nausea caused by cancer treatment, epilepsy where it hasn’t responded to other drugs, multiple sclerosis and severe pain caused by other conditions. Legal use will also be considered to alleviate symptoms caused by Parkinsons, Alzheimers and stress, although all of them will need a doctor’s note to be considered a valid reason to be smoking weed in Thailand.
Time might be a-changing…
As in many other countries around the world, in Thailand has to become more lenient towards smoking for medical grounds. So who knows what might happen in future, we’ll have to wait and see if it becomes more widely accepted. With several western countries legalizing recreational cannabis use it might be that Thailand eventually follows suit.
Until that happens, the safest course of action is to kick back in those Bob Marley-filled beach bars with a beer or five rather than trying anything stronger. And add in a bottle of Sangsom and you’ve got yourself a party!