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In June 2022, Thailand boldly moved to join the multi-billion medical cannabis industry (37.4 billion in 2021). This makes the country a pioneer in weed legalization in the Asian continent. Back in 2018, Thailand made a landmark decision to legalize the medical use of cannabis. From that point, more laws were loosened, leading to the removal of the plant from the Narcotics list on 9th June 2022.

The new law decriminalizes cannabis consumption. The government encourages medical use but strongly discourages recreational consumption. This move, undoubtedly, is excellent news for the advancement of cannabis law, especially in an area known for its stringent laws toward the plant. However, there are still so many questions that need to be answered…

What does this all mean? Is weed completely legal in Thailand? What are the caveats attached to these new weed laws? What led to the legalization of weed in Thailand? What does this mean for the country’s economy? Will this move improve the tourism sector? This piece takes a deeper look into all these issues and answers the question – does this amendment favor Thailand cannabis farmers or not?

What are the new weed laws in Thailand?

As much as weed legalization is exciting, getting on the wrong side of the law is not something one looks forward to. It is paramount for Thailand citizens and tourists to keep tabs on what is considered legal by the scope of the new law and what isn’t. Below is a highlight of what the new amendment entails;

Additionally, cannabis is only sold to individuals over 20 years unless an individual has a medical condition that a qualified doctor has prescribed weed as a treatment option. As you can see, this move by the Thailand government comes with a list of restrictions to ensure public health and safety are adhered to. 

So, does this make Thailand the Amsterdam of Asia?

Not quite. While the country encourages tourism, the restrictions imposed discourage a free cannabis consumption culture witnessed in Amsterdam. According to Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, tourism is ideal for individuals looking to investigate the medical benefits of cannabis and explore cannabis-related business opportunities.

Why has Thailand legalized marijuana?

A brief history of cannabis legalization in Thailand

In the last two decades, Thailand has come from a place of cannabis condemnation to acceptance. Why the change? Is the move economically-centered, geared towards the betterment of the country and its citizens, or was it inevitable? In 2003, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra launched a campaign to eradicate drug use by imposing extreme punishments on offenders. This move did not yield much and resulted in the death of over two thousand individuals. However, despite the strict laws, marijuana importation from Laos and the consumption rate increased exponentially. 

Consequently, a more non-violent approach was warranted. In 2007, attempts began to legalize hemp for textile use, and by 2018, cannabis had been classified as a class 5 narcotic drug. This allowed Thailand citizens to use cannabis therapeutically for selected conditions. In 2020, extracts of cannabis (marijuana and hemp) containing 0.2%THC were removed from the narcotics list. Fast forward to June 9th, 2022 – Thailand revises the narcotics act (B.E 2563) and removes cannabis from the narcotics list, making it legal to use medically and industrially. Here are the primary and secondary reasons why Thailand legalized cannabis.

Primary reasons why Thailand legalized marijuana

To improve the economy after the Covid pandemic: The global pandemic saw a lot of countries struggle with the economy and the citizen battling different forms of mental conditions (anxiety, depression, and stress). Thailand experienced a 6.1 percent fall in GDP in 2020, something the country had never experienced since the Asian financial crisis. By penetrating the medical cannabis market projected to surpass $120 billion by 2026, Thailand will be able to acquire a significant slice of this ever-growing niche. 

Support research and development: this allows scientists to investigate the plant’s full potential and find novel ways to use it therapeutically. Research and development in agriculture improve breeding technology, creating consumer-specific strains. 

Provide medical cannabis to patients who rely on the plant for therapy: legalizing medical cannabis allows patients access to treatment for nausea, vomiting, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, seizures, and appetite stimulation. 

Prevent pharmaceutical domination/monopoly: cannabis provides a natural and safer alternative to most pharmaceutical drugs used for sleep, pain, and other conditions. By legalizing cannabis, Thailand seeks to prevent the domination of the pharmaceutical industry by providing more accessible and cheaper alternatives. 

Secondary reasons why Thailand legalized marijuana

Reduce the Thailand prison population: In 2021, Thailand changed the narcotics code to offer alternatives to imprisonment for drug-related crimes. This was a move to reduce the country’s prison population, where most inmates are in for non-violent, drug-related crimes. When the country legalized cannabis, over 4000 inmates convicted of cannabis-related offenses were pardoned. 

Eradicate illicit cannabis trade: Although cannabis has been illegal in Thailand, the plant remained the 3rd most consumed drug in the country. While some plants were grown in Thailand for traditional healing, most of the cannabis was illegally trafficked from Laos, a major producer of opium and marijuana. 

Protect indigenous cannabis varieties: Preserving Thai strains’ genetics helps cultivators produce unique products that will place them on the global map and reduce the trade deficit with other countries. Additionally, this will ultimately boost the country’s economic status. Such strains include ST1, TT1, UUA1, and RD1. 

Regulate the market for safe and consumer-centered products: legalizing cannabis allows for products to be regulated for consumer safety. Buying drugs illegally poses a health threat since it is impossible to determine the ingredients and potency of the product.

Who can grow weed in Thailand?

Home growers

Thailand has the perfect tropical climate for robust cannabis cultivation and for years native strains such as Thai Stick have been grown illegally. Now cannabis is fully legal to cultivate the government encourages Thai citizens to grow, distribute, and consume cannabis plants without fear of legal repercussions. Cultivators are required to register with Plook Ganja, a government app and website. Since its launch, the channel has received more than 30 million visits, and 582,399 Thailand citizens have registered as cultivators. 

The government and a few learning institutions offer training and courses on cannabis cultivation and consumption. Growers can grow cannabis for personal health, traditional medicine, or commercial and industrial use. Additionally, parts of the plants can be used to make various products as long as they contain less than 0.2% THC. 

thai stick strain growing in Thailand in a field
Thai stick cannabis growing in a field in Thailand

Commercial growers

The government permits commercial growers to grow cannabis for commercial and industrial use after acquiring a production permit from the Thai FDA. So far, more than 3,000 permissions and over 300 permits have been granted. The requirements are as follows;

  1. Provide information on the cultivation area, including the designated location, evidence of ownership or consent for land/space use, and the size of land/space. 
  2. Give details of seed origins (genetics, phytochemical composition, etc.), the number of seeds in possession, and information on additional breeding/propagation (if applicable).
  3. Have a separate breeding and cultivation area per good agricultural practice regulations. 
  4. Agree to regular Thai FDA inspections for cannabinoid composition and heavy metals
  5. Provide information on production capability, distribution and utilization plans, and availability of a ready market (purchasing order). All these factors will determine the size and amount of cultivation.
  6. Give details on the storage capacity and security control measures. The grow space/area should have secured walls, sturdy doors, a fire exit, CCTV, and limited entrance access. 
  7. Provide the Thai FDA with logistics protocol covering the harvesting, transportation, and disposal plans. 

Is recreational marijuana legal in Thailand?

Thailand may have legalized cannabis for a wide range of reasons, but recreational use remains an exception. The government strongly discourages the personal use of cannabis, hence the multiple restrictions in place. High THC strains are to be used medically, and public consumption is prohibited. Additionally, THC-infused foods and beverages should contain less than 0.2% THC. As a result, establishments retailing cannabis-centered products focus on the numerous benefits offered by other phytochemicals like terpenes, CBD and minor cannabinoids, and flavonoids to attract consumers. 

However, some people still argue that legalizing cannabis in Thailand without proper legislation to limit its abuse invites problems as opposed to keeping them at bay. A few days after the legalization, Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul signed an order prohibiting the sale of cannabis to adolescents and pregnant women. This move came after members of the government and Thailand’s Royal College of Pediatricians expressed concerns about selling the plant and its derivatives to children below 20 years of age. 

Who can sell cannabis in Thailand?

According to the new amendment, the following can sell cannabis in Thailand;

  • Home growers that have registered with the Plook Ganja app
  • Commercial cannabis producers with a permit from the Thai FDA
  • Restaurants can sell cannabis-infused foods and drinks with less than 0.2% THC
  • Dispensaries can sell cannabis to medical patients that are 20 years and above. Those under this age must have a prescription from a qualified physician.

What does this mean for the Thai economy?

Cannabis is set to become a key economic crop in Thailand. According to experts, the Thai cannabis market is projected to reach 1.2 billion by 2025 if the new law remains unaltered. New supply chains are being created, and the market is flooded with new products (cannabis buds and derivatives) to suit the needs of different consumers. This has also opened a market for products like bongs, pipes, and vapes that have become favorites among cannabis enthusiasts. 

During the Covid pandemic, thousands of Thai citizens lost their source of income, which mainly came from tourism. The legalization of cannabis has provided a stream of income as people can now work in dispensaries, cannabis farms, restaurants, cafes, or become growers and distribute cannabis to consumers. This move is expected to create opportunities for Thai growers and Small and medium enterprises. However, experts predict that big businesses will likely take over as the Thai cannabis market goes global. 

Factors that may affect the implementation of the new law

While this new law has brought a positive change in Thailand, several factors may affect its seamless implementation. These include;

  • Since the early 90s, many individuals have viewed cannabis in a bad light. Its use is perceived negatively due to the addiction and abuse stigma attached to it. Without changing the perception of the public and some government officials, implementing the new law may become a hurdle. Proper measures must be put in place to prevent the abuse of cannabis in Thailand. Additionally, educating the public about the multiple benefits of cannabis supported by scientific research will help shift the perception.
  • The requirements for commercial producers may discourage some corporations from applying for licenses. 
  • Only companies established under Thailand law and have Thai citizens who own ⅔ of the corporation’s capital or whose ⅔ of the director positions are held by Thai nationals can qualify to produce, sell, import, export, and possess cannabis. This discourages private investment, which helps bring cash infusion, connections in the business, and market expertise. 

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