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Thailand Removes Weed From List of Banned Substances

Thailand removed cannabis from the nation’s list of banned drugs on Thursday, making the country the first Asian nation to decriminalize pot. Officials from the government warned that this move doesn’t legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Under Thailand’s new regulations, marijuana and hemp cultivation and commerce are no longer illegal. Cafes and restaurants will now be allowed to sell cannabis-infused food and drinks, provided they do not exceed 0.2% THC. For medicinal purposes, products with higher levels of THC will be allowed.

How to Boost Economic Growth

Anutin Chakravarkul, Thailand’s deputy prime Minister and health minister, stated to CNN that legalizing cannabis would help promote economic growth in Thailand. However, he said that medical use of high-THC marijuana is still prohibited under decriminalization.

“It’s a no,” Anutin said, referring to the legalization of recreational cannabis. “We still have regulations under the law that control the consumption, smoking or use of cannabis products in non-productive ways.”

Thailand has strict regulations regarding recreational cannabis use. Under the country’s Public Health Act, smoking cannabis in public can be punished with a fine of about $800 and up to three months in jail.

“We [have always] emphasized using cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical purposes and for health,” Anutin said. “There has never once been a moment that we would think about advocating people to use cannabis in terms of recreation — or use it in a way that it could irritate others.”

The health minister also had a warning for tourists who may believe that Thailand’s new stance on cannabis presents an opportunity to simply enjoy weed. Although cannabis tourism will now be allowed for medical purposes, it is not permitted to be used in recreational quantities, especially in public areas.

“Thailand will promote cannabis policies for medical purposes,” said Anutin. “If [tourists] come for medical treatment or come for health-related products then it’s not an issue but if you think that you want to come to Thailand just because you heard that cannabis or marijuana is legal … [or] come to Thailand to smoke joints freely, that’s wrong. Don’t come. We won’t welcome you if you just come to this country for that purpose.”

Asia is leading the way in cannabis reform

Thailand, the first Southeast Asian country to legalize medical marijuana in 2018, was the most notable. Two years later, the Thai cabinet approved amendments to the country’s drug laws to allow for the production and sale of medical marijuana, including cannabis flower. Thailand announced last month that cannabis would be removed from its banned substances list and it will allow the cultivation at home of unlimited amounts of medical marijuana. Anutin stated that both the agriculture and the health ministry would cooperate to give away one million marijuana plants free of charge to citizens to use for their medicinal purposes.

“This will enable people and the government to generate more than 10 billion baht (nearly $300 million annually) in revenue from marijuana and hemp,” Anutin said after making the announcement. “Meanwhile, people can showcase their cannabis and hemp-related products and wisdom and sell their products nationwide.”

He stated that marijuana decriminalization, as well as initiatives like the free distribution of cannabis plants, will fuel Thailand’s growth and development.

“We expect the value of [the cannabis] industry to easily exceed $2 billion dollars,” he told CNN, highlighting recent incentives such as collaborating with the Agriculture Ministry to distribute 1 million free cannabis plants to households across the country. “Thailand, from what I was told, is one of the best places to grow cannabis plants.”

With Thailand’s new policy going into effect, the country planned to release about 3,000 prisoners incarcerated for marijuana or hemp offenses on Thursday. But law enforcement officials seem keen to maintain the hardline prohibition of marijuana. A 56-year old woman was arrested by Chonburi police for cultivating one marijuana plant. Plainclothes officers found the cannabis plants growing through her bedroom windows. Later, her husband stated that she had high blood pressure and diabetes. The couple were growing cannabis to supplement their diet. According to the health minister, the officers in this case were reprimanded.

“They were given warnings and suspended. They did not obey the law we have just established,” Anutin said. “However, we need to [educate] ordinary people and the law enforcers and let them know how far they can go in terms of using cannabis content … within the legal framework. This is what we have been trying to do, to give as much information as we can to educate people.”