In a landmark move, Thailand Food and Drug Administration handed down a decision that removes cannabis from its narcotics drug list, effectively making the plant legal for medical and industrial use.
Pro-marijuana Thais flocked cannabis retailers in Bangkok, including Highland Café, to celebrate the historic decision. This move makes Thailand the first Asian country to decriminalize marijuana.
“I can say it out loud, that I am a cannabis smoker. I don’t need to hide like in the past when it was branded as an illegal drug,” said Rittipong Bachkul, Highland’s first customer following the decision.
The Southeast Asian country is pushing the legalization a bit further with the public health minister’s plan to distribute 1 million marijuana seedlings starting Friday.
“We should know how to use cannabis,” said Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul. “If we have the right awareness, cannabis is like gold, something valuable, and should be promoted.”
While the government has made cannabis legal to cultivate and possess, it is yet to clarify the guidelines on recreational marijuana use. Bangkok has a standing regulation for public smoking that could earn a 3-month jail sentence and a US$780 fine. Cannabis products and derivatives beyond 0.2% THC are also still illegal.
“The problem is that cannabis is no longer considered a narcotic but there are no ministry regulations and rules governing the use of it,” said Prof. Sarana Sommano of Chiang Mai University’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. “There is no mention of limits on use, drug-impaired driving laws”
But advocates see the development as a positive outlook for the cannabis industry in the country.
“As far as the government is concerned, it’s their job to promote medical use only,” said Rattapon Sanrak, Highland Café’s co-owner. “But it is pretty clear that we have come very far and finally are legalizing its use. The government understands that it’s more pros than cons.”
Thailand currently sits as the third-largest cannabis market in the world, even before the legalization. After the decision came down, the majority of cannabis retailers and operators set out to make their business moves.
Aside from the potential economic benefits, there’s an estimated “4,000 people imprisoned for offenses relating to cannabis will be released.”
“People facing cannabis-related charges will see them dropped, and money and cannabis seized from people charged with cannabis-related offenses will be returned to their owners,” said Gloria Lai, Asia regional director of the International Drug Policy Consortium.
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