Thailand becomes 1st Asian nation to largely legalize marijuana

Bangkok — Thailand has legalized cultivation and possession marihuana from Thursday. It was like a dream come true for an aging generation of pot smokers who remember the kick given by the legendary Thai Stick strain.

The public health minister’s plan to distribute 1 million marijuana seedlings, starting Friday, has added to the impression that Thailand is turning into a weed wonderland.

The Food and Drug Administration’s decision to remove the entire plant from the narcotics category makes Thailand the first country in Asia to decriminalize marijuana for medical and industrial use. But it is not following the example of Uruguay and Canada, the only two countries so far that have legalized recreational marijuana at the national level.

thai marijuana
A customer talks on the phone while buying marijuana at Highland Café in Bangkok, Thailand, June 9, 2022.

Sakchai Lalit/AP

So far, it appears that there will be no effort to police what people can grow and smoke at home, other than registering to do so and declaring it for medical purposes.

Some Thai advocates celebrated on Thursday by buying marijuana at a cafe that was previously limited to selling products made from the parts of the plant that don’t get people high. The dozen or so people who showed up early at the Highland Café were able to choose from a variety of buttons with names like Sugarcane, Bubblegum, Purple Afghani and UFO.

“I can say out loud that I’m a pot smoker. I don’t have to hide like I did in the past when it was labeled an illegal drug,” said Rittipong Bachkul, 24, the first customer of the day. Marijuana is also known as cannabis or ganja.

“Still risks” with unclear rules

“As far as the government is concerned, it’s their job to only promote medical use. But it’s pretty clear that we’ve come this far and we’re finally legalizing their use. The government understands that it’s more pros than cons,” Rattapon Sanrak said. , co-owner of the cafe and a longtime legalization activist.

The country is known for its Thai Stick variety, named for the way its potent flowers are dried and strung on sticks. It is the origin of many varieties now grown abroad.

thai marijuana
An employee at Highland Café selects pots of marijuana for a customer in Bangkok, Thailand, June 9, 2022.

Sakchai Lalit/AP

The government of Thailand has warned that those who wish to light a cigarette for fun that smoking in public can still be considered a nuisance, subject to a potential three-month prison sentence and a fine of 25,000 baht ($780). And marijuana extracts, like the oil, remain illegal if they contain more than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical that gets people high.

Tourists should proceed with caution until the rules become clearer, said Professor Sarana Sommano, from the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at Chiang Mai University.

“There are still risks. The problem is that cannabis is no longer considered a narcotic, but there are no ministerial regulations and rules governing its use,” she said. “There’s no mention of limits on use, drug-impaired driving laws. This could be a mistake by the government in trying to rush its policy to please voters without really planning the details and explaining to the public what’s going on.”

Thailand primarily wants to make an impact on the medical marijuana market. It already has a well-developed medical tourism industry and its tropical climate is ideal for growing cannabis.

thailand cannabis
Thai Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul reacts during a press conference, February 8, 2022, at the Ministry of Public Health in Nonthaburi, Thailand, after signing a measure removing cannabis from his ministry’s list of controlled drugs.

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“We should know how to use cannabis,” said Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, a marijuana pusher, recently. “If we have the right conscience, cannabis is like gold, something valuable and should be promoted.”

Get out of prison free card

Some immediate beneficiaries of the change are people who were arrested for breaking the old law.

“From our point of view, a major positive outcome of the legal changes is that at least 4,000 people arrested for cannabis-related crimes will be released,” Gloria Lai, Asia Regional Director for the International Drug Policy Consortium, said in an interview by and -mail.

“People facing cannabis-related charges will see them go down, and money and cannabis seized from people accused of cannabis-related crimes will be returned to their owners,” she said. Her organization is a network of civic groups around the world that advocate for drug policies that embody human rights, health and development.

Marijuana windfall or marijuana monopoly?

The anticipated economic benefits are at the heart of Thailand’s marijuana reforms, designed to boost everything from national incomes to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. But there is concern about whether the benefits will be equitably distributed.

One fear is that large corporations could unfairly benefit from proposed regulations involving cumbersome licensing processes and expensive fees for commercial use that would harm small producers.

thai marijuana
A worker takes care of cannabis plants at a farm in eastern Thailand’s Chonburi Province, June 5, 2022.

Sakchai Lalit/AP

Taopiphop Limjittrakorn, a lawmaker for the opposition Move Forward party, said that under some proposed regulations, the cannabis industry could end up being controlled by a few big companies, as is the case with alcoholic beverages. His party wants laws written to solve the problem.

Small operators are eager to get into the marijuana business.

On a recent hot Sunday afternoon in the Sri Racha district of eastern Thailand, Ittisug Hanjichan, owner of the Goldenleaf Hemp cannabis farm, conducted his fifth training course for 40 entrepreneurs, farmers and retirees. They paid about $150 each to learn tips on how to cut seed husks and care for the plants for quality yields.

One of the participants was 18-year-old Chanadech Sonboon, who said his parents used to scold him for trying to secretly grow marijuana plants.

He said his father has changed his mind and now sees marijuana as a medicine rather than something to be abused. The family runs a small family home and cafe and hopes to one day provide cannabis to their guests.

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