Four Thai cops just got disciplined for arresting a woman over one tiny cannabis plant, highlighting a major paradigm shift in the country's cannabis laws.
Earlier this week, cops arrested 56-year-old Pornpimol Prakobpol for growing one cannabis plant in her bedroom. The police reportedly entered her home while searching for some stolen motorcycles, but they quickly got distracted by a tiny pot plant with only 6 leaves on it. Cops dragged her down to the station, and because her husband couldn't afford bail, she spent the night in prison.
The story of Pornpimol's arrest got picked up by local news media, who reported that the family was only using the plant as a treatment for high blood pressure and diabetes. The press criticized the cops for arresting someone for such a minor offense, especially since Thailand is about to decriminalize cannabis next week. Starting on June 9th, any Thai citizen will be allowed to grow as much cannabis as they want, as long as it is intended for medicinal use only.
The decriminalization policy is not yet in effect, though, so the arrest was technically legal under the country's current drug laws. But in response to the public outrage, the local police force announced that the four cops involved in the arrest had been transferred to “inactive posts,” a light punishment that assigns officers to boring desk jobs. Local officials explained that the cops were simply confused about the country's new cannabis laws, and urged officers to exercise more caution before arresting anyone for weed.
It's not all that surprising that the police were confused about the new cannabis laws, because they are honestly somewhat confusing. The new policy will allow Thai citizens to grow as much hemp as they want, as long as it contains no more than 0.2 percent THC. The THC content of a plant can’t be identified without expensive lab tests, though, so it will be impossible for cops to actually determine whether home-grown plants are complying with the limit.
At present, it is also illegal for people to actually use the cannabis that they grow at home, but lawmakers are reportedly planning to legalize personal home consumption by the time that decriminalization takes effect. And although Thailand has fully legalized the medicinal use of cannabis, all recreational use remains strictly illegal. It's hard to imagine how police will actually enforce these restrictions once every household is growing weed, but government officials have suggested that they might take a relaxed view towards enforcing these restrictions.
“Our principle is that we choose to use marijuana to get the maximum benefits, but we will control the use that will cause punishment,” said parliament member Saphachai Jaismut in a social media post translated by VICE. “In fact, we trust Thai people that everyone is smart enough to take care of their own lives.”
As recently as five years ago, Thai courts used to regularly sentence people to decades in prison over minor weed offenses. That all started to change in 2018, when Thailand became the first Southeast Asian country to legalize medical marijuana. The local medicinal pot industry has exploded since then, and the consequences of Pornpimol's arrest clearly show that the stigma against cannabis use is a thing of the past.
Earlier this week, the Thai Food and Drug Administration launched a new phone app and website called Plook Ganja (plant ganja), which allows households to register their homegrown cannabis plants. People will also be able to use this app to sell their own raw hemp to businesses that make medical marijuana products. And to help everyone get a start in this new industry, government officials are planning to distribute one million free hemp plants to anyone who wants to try their hand at home cultivation.