Thailand’s Sangha Supreme Council (SSC) passed a decision last week banning the use and growing of marijuana by Buddhist monks and novices. The ban includes all forms of marijuana—also known as cannabis, hemp, and ganja—which were legalized last month in Thailand.
With the legalization of marijuana in June, many Buddhists in Thailand have expressed concern over its use in temples and among monastics. In response, the SSC, Thailand’s governing body over Buddhists throughout the country, issued its own ruling.
A spokesperson for Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism, Sittha Moonhong, said that the ban would clarify to everyone that Buddhist monastics were not to grow the plant or use drugs derived from it. “There may be a misperception [among Buddhist monks] that doing so is no longer illegal and anyone can do it,” he added.
According to the new ruling, Buddhist temples and monastic grounds may not be used to grow the plants. Furthermore, monks and novices are prohibited from consuming them, except when prescribed by a doctor as medicine.
Sittha noted that while the Buddha’s teachings do not explicitly prohibit the use of drugs derived from these plants, they could impact users’ minds in ways that would lead them to violate the monastic precepts.
Nonetheless, the use of marijuana derivatives has been widespread, including among monks, for its medicinal value. Monks at Wat Jantrawas, a Buddhist monastery in Phetchaburi Province, often add cannabis oil into their coffee for its calming effects.
Last month, a number of novice monks were kicked out of a short-term stay at a Buddhist monastery after they were caught smoking marijuana. The novices were at a temple as part of a drug addiction program jointly run by Thailand’s Buddhist sangha and Thai courts. The young men were set to stay at a Buddhist temple as novice monks for nine days. On the fourth day of the program, they were filmed smoking cannabis on temple grounds. A mother of one of the boys—who wished to remain anonymous—said:
“The Sangha’s programme is planned well. A total of 12 novices are looked after by 8 senior mentors to prevent incidents like this from happening. But that day, 4 different events were going on at the temple and some of the mentors were busy helping with temple work. The monks were left alone for a short while and that’s when it happened. We think it is a matter of their young age and also the fact that they received news that marijuana is no longer illegal in Thailand. It was done without anyone knowing.”(The Thaiger)
Thailand officially decriminalized marijuana—and associated plants and drugs—on 9 June. Nonetheless, the move came with restrictions. Those caught smoking the drug in public can face a fine of 25,000 baht (US$780) for causing a public nuisance. Visitors to Thailand are allowed to consume edibles or use marijuana for medical purposes.
The move makes Thailand the first nation in Asia to decriminalize marijuana and only the third in the world—after Canada and Uruguay—to fully legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
Thailand’s Public Health Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, said of the decision to decriminalize marijuana: “If we have the right awareness, cannabis is like gold, something valuable, and should be promoted.” (NPR)
As part of the move, people in Thailand who have been recently charged or jailed for breaking the old law will be eligible for release and the removal of charges.
“From our perspective, a major positive outcome of the legal changes is that at least 4,000 people imprisoned for offences relating to cannabis will be released,” said Gloria Lai, regional director for Asia of the International Drug Policy Consortium. “People facing cannabis-related charges will see them dropped, and money and cannabis seized from people charged with cannabis-related offences will be returned to their owners.” (NPR)
Beyond the legal repercussions, many in the country hope it will reinvigorate Thailand’s tourism economy, which has been battered by COVID-19 restrictions.
Buddhist monks banned from using cannabis, except as medicine (The Nation Thailand)
Smoke signals: Thailand blazes trail for cannabis in wary Asia (Nikkei Asia)
Novices caught smoking cannabis kicked out of Thailand’s monkhood (The Thaiger)
Thailand decriminalizes marijuana, but not the strong stuff (NPR)
Marijuana is now legal in Thailand. What does that mean for tourists? (The Washington Post)
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