Just four years after becoming the first Southeast Asian country to legalize medical marijuana, Thailand is making moves to completely legalize all parts of the cannabis plant.
Last week, the Thai government revised its narcotics code to acknowledge that marijuana and hemp roots, leaves, and stems are not illegal drugs. And next year, officials will expand this policy even further by completely removing all parts of the cannabis plant, including raw flower, from its list of banned narcotics.
“What we have achieved so far is to declare that cannabis stems, roots, leaves, and sprigs are not drugs,” said Anutin Charnvirakul, who is Thailand's deputy prime minister and its public health minister, VICE reports. “Starting next year, we will remove everything—stems, roots, sprigs, leaves, buds, flowers and seeds—from the narcotics list.”
Thailand initially legalized medical marijuana at the end of 2018, and within 8 months, local hospitals were already taking delivery of legal full-extract CBD oil. In 2019, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha showed his support for the program by publicly puffing on a medical pot vape, and a local university created Asia's first legal weed strain, Issara 01. And the following year, officials legalized the production of hemp-infused foods, drinks, and cosmetics.
Under the country's current laws, businesses can obtain licenses to cultivate cannabis for medical use, but home growers are also allowed to grow their own weed and sell it directly to the government. Cultivation is strictly monitored, though, and all flowers and buds must be removed at harvest. These buds are either set aside for medicinal use or research, or destroyed immediately.
Thai police can still arrest anyone who tries to sell legally-grown weed for recreational use, but the government's new plan will begin to relax this prohibition. The new law will allow Thai citizens to grow, process, sell and use cannabis flower for non-medical use. Government officials hope that a thriving legal weed industry will boost the country's economy and make Thailand Southeast Asia’s leading pot tourism destination.
“The developments mean that the cannabis industry in Thailand is growing and will only get bigger,” said Kitty Chopaka, CEO of Bangkok-based cannabis consulting firm Elevated Estate, to VICE World News. “We could probably see a cannabis and hemp-related Thai company that might go into the stock market and big companies slowly making their way into Thailand as we become an actual market... Everything else should slowly follow, and if Thailand does well and others in the region like Malaysia, Laos and Cambodia see this, what makes us think that they won’t jump on board?”
Most other Southeast Asian countries continue to punish even minor cannabis use with extreme prejudice, however. Singapore just sentenced a man to death by hanging over two pounds of weed, and many other countries throughout the region also regularly execute people for cannabis crimes. But last month, Malaysia announced plans to legalize medical marijuana, and the unparalleled success of Thailand's medical pot industry is likely to inspire other nearby countries to finally update their brutal cannabis prohibition laws.