Tourism businesses in Thailand have hailed the prime minister’s plan to end recreational cannabis use within six months, believing that unregulated cannabis shops have done more harm than good to tourism in the past year.
During an interview with Bloomberg this week, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin claimed that the government will change its cannabis policy within six months to ensure that it was solely used for medical purposes.
He previously stated that he personally objected with recreational usage of weed.
“You can now easily find a cannabis shop every 200-300 metres along the streets of Pattaya, and 90% of them are not for medical purposes,” Thanet Supornsahasrungsi, group executive director of Sunshine Hotels and Resorts in Pattaya, told the Bangkok Post.
He said that the relaxed regulations and lax enforcement caused more issues for tourism than economic gains, citing a few incidents of hotel guests overdosing on cannabis and being sent to the hospital in a coma.
There were also issues for tourists from countries that prohibit the consumption and importation of cannabis products, as many of them were unaware that several things purchased here contained cannabis, such as foods and drinks.
“If we want to use it for medical purposes, law enforcement should be stricter to ensure we can provide them with medical treatment that is safe for their health,” Mr Thanet added.
Thailand to Promote Medical Cannabis
He claimed that most tourists did not intend to come Thailand solely to consume cannabis, but that they were taking advantage of a loophole while the country failed to adequately regulate the industry.
The original purpose of decriminalisation, championed by the Bhumjaithai Party in the previous coalition administration, was to promote cannabis for medicinal use as well as as an economic crop with applications such as medicine, food and beverage production.
However, the lack of a regulation allowed recreational usage to grow, with thousands of cannabis clinics appearing in Bangkok and tourist areas throughout the country. During the previous government’s tenure, a measure to adequately regulate business failed to pass.
Anutin Charnvirakul, the leader of Thailand’s Bhumjaithai party, was the minister of public health in the previous government and currently heads the Ministry of Interior. It is understood that backing for the therapeutic use of cannabis was a significant condition for his 71-member party entering the Pheu Thai-led coalition.
According to Suksit Suvunditkul, president of the Thailand Hotels Association’s southern chapter, multiple cannabis shops sprouted on every street in Phuket after the plant was removed from the drugs list.
He claims that most hotels have to forbid smoking marijuana in their rooms because it disturbs other visitors, particularly families with children.
He stated that hotels fully support the government’s decision to limit cannabis use to medical purposes alone.
Closing of Cannabis Shops
The private sector in the provinces previously examined the implications of uncontrolled enterprises and proposed zoning cannabis use for recreational purposes to prevent it from developing uncontrollably.
However, even if the government decided to close all cannabis businesses, the tourism industry in Phuket would not suffer because the island is on track to rebound to its pre-crisis levels by 2019.
“European guests have recovered by 80%, with forward bookings in the upcoming high season reaching 40-50%,” Mr Suksit explained.
“If the government closes cannabis shops, it will have no effect on the tourism industry.” Phuket experienced consistent growth prior to the legalisation of cannabis.”
Meanwhile, Airports of Thailand (AoT) has set aside 140 billion baht for two airport construction projects, including the development of Phangnga’s Andaman International Airport.
According to AoT president Kerati Kijmanawat, both projects — the new airport in Phangnga and a second phase rehabilitation of Chiang Mai Airport — are government reactions to Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s urgent priorities.
“They aim to stimulate tourism, but one also encourages Phuket, Phangnga, Krabi, and Ranong to become air transportation hubs,” Mr Kerati explained.
Tourists visiting the Andaman region
The Andaman International Airport will be built on around 6,000 rai in the tambon Kok Kloi of Thakua Thung district, which is a Ratchaphatsadu region held by the Treasury Department. Mr Kerati stated that the AoT had done some investigation on the area’s construction plan.
The AoT is keen to begin work on the project as soon as possible because it has become an urgent policy.
According to Mr Kerati, the AoT expects to hire a consultant for the project’s research and development stage by the end of this year, to perform a study primarily on the project’s investment.
Once approved, the building process is estimated to take at least seven years, with three years for research and development and four years for construction. Mr Kerati expects the airport to be operational by 2031.
According to him, the airport will increase the number of tourists visiting the Andaman region by at least 15 million.
He also stated that the AoT will spend an additional 70 billion baht on the second phase of renovations at Chiang Mai International Airport, which will be more difficult due to the site being controlled by a private organisation.