Thailand Makes Moves to Become Asia's Medical Cannabis Tourism Hub
What else would you expect from the home of the Thai stick?
Published on November 4, 2021

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An official from Thailand’s public health ministry told reporters last week that the country will prioritize the industrial cultivation of cannabis with plans to become a regional, tourist-friendly hub for medical marijuana.

“This will help drive medical marijuana in Thailand and will become another attraction for foreign tourists and investors to Thailand,” said the ministry’s Somsak Ankasil, who noted medical cannabis accounted for seven billion baht (about $210 million) in profits last year.

The official particularly lauded the January launch of the International Medical Cannabis Research Center, a medical facility that will explore modern and traditional medicinal uses of cannabis. That clinic is one of a vast network of cannabis hospitals across the country — upon the opening of the IMCRC, government authorities announced a plan to build similar facilities in every Thai province. 

Thailand, home of the world renowned Thai stick, has long been a leader in Asia when it comes to dismantling cannabis prohibition — a fact made all the more significant from neighboring countries that continue to punish even small-scale drug trafficking with the death penalty. 

The country legalized medical marijuana in 2019, soon after allowing home growers to sell their supply to the government, and developing its first national strain, Maejo University’s Issara 01. Within eight months of legalization, Thailand distributed government-produced cannabis oil to hospitals. Last year, the government removed all parts of the cannabis plant, except flower, from its list of banned narcotics, opening the door to hemp-infused cosmetic and food production. 

Cannabis is not the only substance Thailand has taken a proactive approach toward. In August, the government removed the plant-derived kratom from its list of controlled substances, too.

Of course, like many countries, there are still grave inconsistencies regarding cannabis policy. Recreational use of marijuana remains strictly forbidden, and those arrested in possession of more than 10 kilograms of cannabis can still be put to death. 

But Thailand is far from alone in its capital punishment of cannabis carriers. Such was the outrage surrounding the Singapore government’s decision to uphold Omar Yacob Bamadhaj’s death sentence for moving a mere two pounds of cannabis across the country’s borders that even pop stars like Ziggy Marley spoke out to their followers about Omar’s plight. 

Burma, Malayasia, and China also have the death penalty on the books as a possible punishment for drug-related sentences.

The contrast with Thailand’s prime minister hoisting a plushie pot leaf and puffing on a vape pen at a press conference can be a bit much — but let’s hope that the country is setting the standard for its region when it comes to regulating medical cannabis.

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Caitlin Donohue
Caitlin Donohue is a Bay Area-raised, Mexico City-based cannabis writer and author of She Represents: 44 Women Who Are Changing Politics and the World. Her weekly show Crónica on Radio Nopal explores Mexican marijuana culture and politics in the prohibition era. Follow Caitlin on IG @byrdwatch.
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