Barring a last-minute reprieve, online sales of alcohol will soon be illegal in Thailand.

The Public Health Ministry on Thursday approved a new law that would make it punishable by six months in jail and a 10,000 baht fine to hawk booze on the internet. The new regulation will officially take effect once published in the Royal Gazette.

UPDATE: Thailand’s biggest liquor-industry business association blasts online sales ban

Alcohol distributors, producers and associations petitioned the government yesterday to stay any action on new prohibitions, citing the economic crush they’ve endured during the coronavirus lockdown, which included a month-long alcohol-sales ban and the closure of bars and pubs for more than three months.

The ministry claims online selling makes it too difficult to enforce the government’s senseless ban on sales before 11 a.m. and from 2-5 p.m., makes it impossible to track where alcohol is being consumed, and offers no assurance underage teens are not buying booze.

Industry professionals called that argument a strawman for the unfounded claims of alcohol prohibitionists, as well as corrupt protection of Thailand’s “Big 3” booze oligopoly – Brewery Co., Thai Beverage Plc and Thai Asia-Pacific Brewery Co. – which controls 92 percent of the country’s alcohol distribution.

Craft beer brewers long have complained that the Big 3 have lawmakers in their pockets, stifling competition. The online rise of independent brewers and smaller distributors during the spring’s lockdown finally put niche companies on equal footing with likes of Chang and Singha.

So, when Alcohol Watch Network, a powerful band of religious zealots that would like nothing more than to make Thailand the next Saudi Arabia, pushed again for an end to online booze sales, the Big 3 were only too happy to go along.

“Large companies can manage with offshore structures for advertising and products like ‘water’ to promote their brands, so it will become an even more monopolistic market,” said Jerome Le Louer, co-founder of  online dealer Wishbeer Home Bar in an interview with BK Magazine. “Big brewers and alcohol companies have been advertising for a long time from abroad. Nothing will change for them.”

The online ban also flies in the face of the government’s much-touted “Thailand 4.0” initiative to become more high-tech, not to mention the desire to keep people out of crowded bars during the pandemic, he said.

“If Thailand is pushing for social distancing, e-commerce should be promoted even more,” he said.

Le Louer pointed out that reputable online dealers already refuse to sell to underage customers and can adjust delivery scheduled to comply with the pointless mid-afternoon sales ban.

“The bigger question is, ‘does it even make sense to forbid alcohol sales between 2 and 5 p.m? What’s the rationale here?” he asked. “Maybe the law needs to be reworked and legislation needs to be made for online retailers. But forbidding it purely won’t solve anything. Everybody will go back to phone orders now.”

The online ban is only the latest chapter in Thailand’s war on alcohol backed by the Buddhism-fundamentalist Alcohol Watch. The network was the driving force behind the vague and misused regulation prohibiting online promotion of alcohol online and especially on social media.

Alcohol regulators and corrupt police have wielded Article 32 of the Alcohol Beverage Control Act to extract fines of up to 50,000 baht out of ordinary drinkers who committed the cardinal sin of sharing a selfie of themselves enjoying a beer by the pool.

But even that law isn’t fairly applied as evidenced by last month’s news that the a distant royal relative and wife of a top Singha executive wasn’t fined for showing off a new product on her Instagram account mere days after a young woman in the South was fined 17,000 baht posting a beer photo to the Prachachonbeer page on Facebook.

When Alcohol Watch Network, a powerful band of religious zealots, … pushed again for an end to online booze sales, the Big 3 were only too happy to go along.

“I just think that all business owners and distributors of all scales should have the right to compete and advertise freely and in a fair manner,” a Prachachonbeer page administrator told BK Magazine. “I just think that it’s really unfair for them to suddenly pass this law without asking those who will be affected directly for the worse.”

Prachachonbeer actually paid 5,000 baht of the woman’s 17,000 baht fine and met with alcohol regulators afterward to talk about ridiculous penalties being dealt for harmless, non-commercial posts. He said it was like talking to a brick wall.

“We went to them to express our opinions, but they didn’t really care,” the admin said, not wanting to disclose his name for fear of government blowback. “I think they’ve never really looked at, or listened to, what the citizens truly want. In my opinion, it would be better for them to listen to us, and try to understand us more, and not just pass laws without asking those who will be directly affected.”