Many sources have attributed the youth revolution of the 1960’s, or the “Hippy Movement”, to be a reaction, in part, to the massive public discontent with the US government for its military involvement in Vietnam. In this way, the Hippy Movement and the use of marijuana can be indirectly traced to the cultural backlash against the Vietnam War. However, there is a more direct cultural transmission of recreational marijuana use. That direct transmission was a result of the combined effects of US soldiers returning home with a taste for cannabis and newly formed black market trade routes. The new market demand and the new routes for distribution contributed to fueling the popularity of marijuana in US culture.
From late 1960s through 1988, one of the world’s most successful drug cartels operated out of Bangkok, shipping hundreds of tons of “Thai stick” globally (see footnote10 for explanation of Thai stick). The Drug Enforcement Administration’s Intelligence Division in a 2001 report, revealed that Thailand was Southeast Asia’s major cultivator of cannabis and producer of marijuana in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time, Thai stick was listed as one of the most common forms of marijuana found in Thailand.
The effect of the US soldiers’ experience in Vietnam is apparent in US slang vocabulary. Words such as “bookoo” (derived from the word beaucoup which is the Vietnamese/French term for “many” or “a lot”), “boondocks”, “BUF” (a B-52 aircraft), “Check it out”, “SNAFU” and “R&R” (rest and recreation vacation taken during one year tour of duty) still remain in mainstream use today.11 The Vietnam War’s influence is also apparent in the vocabulary used for drug slang. For example, one popular method of smoking that is characterized by a partner reverse-blowing into a pipe, is referred to as a “shotgun”. This term is derived from US soldiers’ use of this technique with an actual military-issued shotgun (see a video on use of the “shotgun” in Vietnam). The more ubiquitously used word, “bong”, also has origins in the U.S. soldier’s Vietnam War experiences. The origins of the word “bong” are believed to lie in the Isaan word "baung" used to describe a cylindrical wooden pipe, tube, or container made from bamboo stem. The first recorded use of the word bong in relation to a device for smoking marijuana is found in the January 1971 edition of the Marijuana Review.12 Bamboo bongs are still a popular tourist item and are sold in many gift shops throughout Thailand.
The presence of US soldiers in Thailand during the Vietnam War also left a lasting influence on Thai politics and history. America’s policy influence on Thailand is most visible in Thailand’s drug policy history and International Treaties such as the US-Thai Extradition Treaty.
6. Legal History of Cannabis in Thailand
For most of its recorded history, Thailand, as with many other nations, had no laws prohibiting cannabis use or possession. This began to change in the early 20th century. As one of the original signatories to the League of Nations International Opium Convention of 1912, Thailand, then named Siam, enacted anti-drug legislation that enabled it to receive international grants, loans and benefits. Failing to do so would have prevented or placed these benefits in jeopardy.
In complying with its foundation signatory status Thailand introduced its first anti-drug laws in 1922, the Narcotics Act B.E. 2465, which laid the foundation for present day drug laws in the Kingdom.
As a foundation signatory, Thailand was also obligated to adhere to a USA-sponsored 1928 amendment to the original Convention. This amendment required signatories to ban the exportation of Indian hemp to countries that had prohibited its use.13
In 1937 Thailand's second prime minister, General Phot Phahonyothin, criminalized cannabis in Thailand by passing the country's first law specifically targeting cannabis, the Marijuana Act B.E. 2477 (1937).
Sections 5, 6 and 9 of the Marijuana Act mandated that anyone who plants or possesses marijuana seeds, or who imports or exports marijuana, would be subject to imprisonment for up to one year, or to a fine not exceeding Bt500 (about $16.50*).
Sections 7, 8 and 10 of the Act imposed a jail sentence of not more than six months or a fine not exceeding Bt200 ($6.62*) for those who were caught possessing, buying, selling or using marijuana. Those who had already planted marijuana before the Act was passed were given one year in which to harvest and dispose of their crop.
Although the Marijuana Act B.E. 2477 didn't specify the quantities necessary for each offence, the Commodities Control Act B.E. 2495 (amended in 1999 to include forfeiture of assets obtained as the result of criminal activity) of 1952 enabled the government to regulate all items and quantities of item that could be held by citizens.14
In 1976, Thailand's King Bhumibol proclaimed the Narcotics Control Act, B.E. 2519, which mandated the formation of the US government-funded ONCB (Office of Narcotics Control Board).1516