Huffing and Puffing

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Thailand recently decriminalized marijuana, becoming the first country in Asia to embrace a new attitude toward the plant that the locals refer to as ganja.

The Southeast Asian country will likely not become a pot-focused tourist haven anytime soon, however, the Washington Post cautioned. While marijuana is legal for medicinal and industrial uses, it has not been greenlit for recreational consumption. Smoking in public still carries a maximum sentence of a $700 fine and up to three months in jail.

Still, it seems as if the cat is out of the bag. In addition to folks selling weed-based curries on the street and the Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine’s recent publication of a cookbook detailing Thai recipes that feature ganja, as the Bangkok Post explained, smoking weed for fun is becoming more widespread.

Young people whose job opportunities dried up during the coronavirus pandemic have embraced the new industry, reported Al Jazeera. The keyword #saikiew, or “green way of life” in Thai, has become popular on social media platforms.

Decriminalization reverses Thailand’s traditionally harsh anti-drug policies. In the past, the BBC wrote, Thai leaders zealously waged a war against drugs without thinking much about justice or human rights in the process. Drug trafficking could result in a death sentence, for example, a tradition that other countries in the region, including Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, still uphold.

These shifts are occurring as Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha faced his fourth no-confidence motion in parliament as opposition parties continue to jockey for position ahead of an election next year. A retired army chief who assumed power eight years ago in a coup, according to Reuters, Prayuth has survived no-confidence votes before even as he now presides over a 17-party coalition. His critics say that he has failed to solve any problems, improve the country’s economy or crack down on corruption.

Last year, the Thai economy expanded by 1.5 percent, the worst growth in Southeast Asia, Nikkei Asia reported. Those numbers illustrate how Prayuth has yet to make good on his pledge to boost growth so that Thailand might emerge from the so-called “middle-income trap” where rising costs and poor competitiveness prevent partially developed countries from transitioning into full-on affluent ones.

Prayuth survived the no-confidence vote Saturday. But he might not be so lucky when seeking to win a third term next year. The political climate in Thailand is favoring those who are advocating for change, the Kyodo News wrote.

In other words, smoke will only take them so far.

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