Cannabis, Youth, and Public Health: Assessing the Pitfalls of Legalization

Since legalizing medical marijuana in 2019, in June 2022 Thailand became the first Asian country to decriminalize the growing, possession, and recreational use of cannabis.

While the move has potential economic benefits and could expand social equity for those who legally obtain cannabis by allowing them to avoid exposure to criminal environments, legalization could have unforeseen public health consequences, particularly for young adults.

Dr. Pongkwan Yimsaard (Class 2)
Dr. Pongkwan Yimsaard

Interviewed by The New York Times, Gloria Lai, Asia policy director at the International Drug Policy Consortium, said “[t]he rollout of the decriminalization campaign so far has appeared rushed, and the government has made little effort to educate the public about growing or consuming cannabis.”

Writing in The Lancet Regional Health–Southeast Asia, Pongkwan Yimsaard, M.D., a psychiatrist at King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, Thailand, notes that “the new legislation was not complemented by a public health perspective that could have minimized related socioeconomic and health risks.”

Dr. Yimsaard, who also is a CHIMERA D43 Fellow in amfAR’s TREAT Asia program, studies the intersection of mental health and substance use disorders, and, in particular, the impact of substance use in key populations living with and at high risk for acquiring HIV.

Her attention recently turned to cannabis in light of Thailand’s decriminalization policy. Dr. Yimsaard, and co-authors Kathryn E. Lancaster, Ph.D., and amfAR VP and director of TREAT Asia Annette Sohn, M.D., assert that “the legalization framework should explicitly state that public health protection is a primary goal.”

Read the Lancet Southeast Asia Comment by clicking here.

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