Thailand removed cannabis from the nation’s list of banned drugs on Thursday, making the country the first Asian nation to decriminalize pot. Government officials warned, however, that the move does not legalize cannabis for recreational purposes.
Under Thailand’s new regulations, marijuana and hemp cultivation and commerce are no longer illegal. Restaurants and cafes will be permitted to sell foods and beverages infused with cannabis, but only if they contain no more than 0.2% THC. Products with higher concentrations of THC are permitted for medicinal purposes.
Boosting Economic Growth
Anutin Charnvirakul, the Thai health minister and deputy prime minister, told CNN before the policy reform was enacted that legalizing cannabis will help foster economic growth and development in Thailand. But he added that the non-medical use of high-THC cannabis is still not allowed under decriminalization.
“It’s a no,” Anutin said, referring to the legalization of recreational cannabis. “We still have regulations under the law that control the consumption, smoking or use of cannabis products in non-productive ways.”
Thailand is retaining strict penalties for the recreational use of cannabis. Under the country’s Public Health Act, smoking cannabis in public can be punished with a fine of about $800 and up to three months in jail.
“We [have always] emphasized using cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical purposes and for health,” Anutin said. “There has never once been a moment that we would think about advocating people to use cannabis in terms of recreation — or use it in a way that it could irritate others.”
The health minister also had a warning for tourists who may believe that Thailand’s new stance on cannabis presents an opportunity to simply enjoy weed. While cannabis tourism for medicinal purposes will be permitted, recreational use is still not allowed, particularly in public places.
“Thailand will promote cannabis policies for medical purposes,” said Anutin. “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.”
Leading the Way on Cannabis Reform in Asia
In 2018, Thailand became the first Southeast Asian nation to legalize cannabis for medical use. Two years later, the Thai cabinet approved amendments to the country’s drug laws to allow for the production and sale of medical marijuana, including cannabis flower. Last month, the Thai government announced that the country would remove cannabis from its list of banned substances and permit the home cultivation of an unlimited number of plants for medical purposes. At the same time, Anutin said that the health and agricultural ministries would collaborate to distribute one million free cannabis plants for residents to grow at home for medicinal purposes.
“This will enable people and the government to generate more than 10 billion baht (nearly $300 million annually) in revenue from marijuana and hemp,” Anutin said after making the announcement. “Meanwhile, people can showcase their cannabis and hemp-related products and wisdom and sell their products nationwide.”
He added that cannabis decriminalization and initiatives such as the distribution of free plants will help fuel the growth and development of agriculture and commerce in Thailand.
“We expect the value of [the cannabis] industry to easily exceed $2 billion dollars,” he told CNN, highlighting recent incentives such as collaborating with the Agriculture Ministry to distribute 1 million free cannabis plants to households across the country. “Thailand, from what I was told, is one of the best places to grow cannabis plants.”
With Thailand’s new policy going into effect, the country planned to release about 3,000 prisoners incarcerated for marijuana or hemp offenses on Thursday. However, law enforcement agencies seem eager to continue the harsh prohibition of the past. Only last week, police in the eastern province of Chonburi arrested a 56-year-old woman for growing one potted cannabis plant, which plainclothes officers had noticed growing in her home through her bedroom window. Her husband later said that the woman has high blood pressure and diabetes so the couple was growing the plant to add to their food. The health minister said that the four officers involved in the case had been reprimanded and disciplined.
“They were given warnings and suspended. They did not obey the law we have just established,” Anutin said. “However, we need to [educate] ordinary people and the law enforcers and let them know how far they can go in terms of using cannabis content … within the legal framework. This is what we have been trying to do, to give as much information as we can to educate people.”