Thailand cannabis: From a war on drugs to weed curries

The BBC’s angle on cannabis legalization in Thailand..

Thailand legalised cultivating and consuming cannabis this month, reversing a hard-line approach of long prison sentences or even the death penalty for drug offences. The BBC’s South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head reports on what’s behind the dramatic change.

Twenty-one years ago, I had one of the more searing experiences of my journalistic career. We were invited to watch, and film, the execution of five prisoners, four of them convicted drug traffickers, by firing squad in Bangkok’s Bangkwan prison.

The look on those men’s faces, as they were walked, leg-chains clinking, to the pavilion where the executions took place, is something I shall never forget.

It was part of then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s “war on drugs”, which later escalated into the killing of many hundreds of drug suspects.

Thaksin’s campaign was popular. Thais were worried about the damaging effects on their communities of narcotics like methamphetamines – and they were willing to ignore the shocking violations of human rights that came with the violent crackdown.

Other countries in the region have followed the same punitive approach, notably the Philippines after President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016. Singapore and Malaysia have imposed the death penalty for drug trafficking for decades. Tourists coming to South East Asia have long been warned of the harsh penalties they face if caught with even small amounts of marijuana.