Thailand is poised to become the first Asian country to legalize medical marijuana with a bill pending before the National Legislative Assembly that’s expected to pass soon, according to media reports. Supporters of the legislation were expected to meet on Wednesday with the leader of the country’s military government, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, to discuss fast-tracking the bill. Under provisions of the country’s constitution known as Article 44, the prime minister is permitted to unilaterally enact legislation.
Dr. Somyot Kittimunkong is a physician who has been advocating for the legalization of medical marijuana in Thailand for years. He told Vice that many Thai people are already using cannabis medicinally.
“I’ve seen it a lot,” Kittimunkong said. “I’ve seen doctors, a judge, and even high-level [government] ministers use cannabis oil to treat cancer. It’s soldiers, police, and many, many more. I think in every occupation you can imagine, you’ll find people using cannabis oil in Thailand as a treatment of their cancer.”
Kittimunkong said that medical marijuana legalization is starting to gain support from the country’s leaders, who are beginning to recognize the economic potential of legal cannabis.
“I have met many people, many politicians who agree, they say ‘yes’,” Kittimunkong said. “I have heard that some political parties are deciding the policy on allowing people to grow cannabis for commercial purposes.”
Cannabis Has Deep Roots in Thailand
Kitty Chopaka, the chief marketing officer for the pro-legalization group the Highland Network, said that cannabis has a long history in Thailand.
“Marijuana has always been a part of Thailand’s culture,” said Chopaka. “For centuries, farmers would go out to the field, they would use kratom, by chewing the kratom leaves. Then they’d go home and smoke a bong. They’d smoke so that they could eat, relax, and then go to sleep. And then do the same thing all over again.”
Dr. Nopporn Cheanklin is executive managing director of the Government Pharmaceutical Organization, part of the Ministry of Public Health. He has been lobbying the military government for approval for medical marijuana research and development.
“The best strains of cannabis in the world 20 years ago were from Thailand, and now Canada has developed this strain until up to this day, we can’t claim that ours is the best in the world anymore,” said Cheanklin. “That’s why we must develop our strain to be able to compete with theirs.”
Steve Rolles, a senior policy analyst for the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said in an email to Bloomberg that countries wishing to enter the international medical marijuana market should act soon.
“It will be important for new market entrants like Thailand to get established quickly, however, or existing players like Canada and the U.S. will use their historical advantage to capture and dominate the market sector,” Rolles wrote.
Gloria Lai, the Asia regional director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, said that the legalization of medical marijuana in Thailand could spur similar action throughout the region.
“It is a positive shift from policy-making based on morality and ideology to being based on evidence,” Lai said. “It is likely that some other countries will follow suit, as there has been some consideration for permitting medical use of cannabis in South Korea, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines already.”