A Buddhist temple in Thailand is even quieter than usual these days after several monks there failed a drug test.
Agence France-Presse reports that a total of four monks “including an abbot at a temple in Phetchabun province’s Bung Sam Phan district tested positive for methamphetamine on Monday.”
Boonlert Thintapthai, an official in the central Thailand district, told Agence France-Presse that the “temple is now empty of monks and nearby villagers are concerned they cannot do any merit-making” after the four monks were sent to a drug rehabilitation clinic.
“Merit-making involves worshippers donating food to monks as a good deed. Boonlert said more monks will be sent to the temple to allow villagers to practise their religious obligations. Thailand is a major transit country for methamphetamine flooding in from Myanmar’s troubled Shan state via Laos, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. On the street, pills sell for less than 20 baht (around $0.50). Authorities across Southeast Asia have made record meth seizures in recent years,” Agence France-Presse reports.
The raid of the temple comes at a turbulent moment for the country and its enforcement of drug laws.
In June, Thai lawmakers passed a measure that removed cannabis from its list of prohibited drugs, making it the first Asian country to decriminalize weed.
But the new law has resulted in ambiguity, and frustration for government officials.
The new law made it legal to cultivate both cannabis and hemp, but it also opened the door for restaurants to serve food and drinks that contain THC.
These cannabis cafes have sprouted up in recent months throughout the capital city of Bangkok, much to the chagrin of Thai officials.
“It’s a no,” Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said in the summer when asked whether recreational pot use would be allowed. “We still have regulations under the law that control the consumption, smoking or use of cannabis products in non-productive ways.”
But the cannabis cafes have been a boon for the country’s tourism industry, with foreign travelers eager to catch a buzz in the southeast Asian state.
That, too, has drawn pushback from the Thailand government.
“We don’t welcome those kinds of tourists,” Anutin said in August.
After the new law was passed in June, Anutin said that the goal was never to open the door for recreational use.
“Thailand will promote cannabis policies for medical purposes,” Anutin said at the time. “If [tourists] come for medical treatment or come for health-related products then it’s not an issue but if you think that you want to come to Thailand just because you heard that cannabis or marijuana is legal … [or] come to Thailand to smoke joints freely, that’s wrong. Don’t come. We won’t welcome you if you just come to this country for that purpose.”
Physicians in the country have also objected to the new law. In July, more than 850 doctors in Thailand signed a petition calling on more stringent rules and restrictions.
“Cannabis was removed from the Public Health Ministry’s Narcotic list on June 9, but no policies have been launched to control the use of cannabis for personal pleasure,” a spokesperson for the doctors said. “This lack of [legal] direction makes cannabis more accessible for children and teenagers.”
The group of doctors argued that “government and related departments should stop threatening people’s health as soon as possible.”
“The use of cannabis for medical purposes should be under control for the best benefits and safety as the government claimed from the first place,” the group said.
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