Thailand has become the first country in Asia to decriminalize the cultivation and sale of marijuana. However, Thai residents won’t be living in a recreational cannabis paradise anytime soon.
The Asian country plans on enacting strict cannabis policies and tough penalties for anyone caught indulging in recreational weed. According to Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, the move is meant to boost Thailand’s economy by tapping into the billion-dollar medical cannabis industry.
Anutin cautions against using cannabis recreationally as the country still has laws that control the consumption of marijuana products in a “nonproductive” way. Rather than launch a recreational market, Thailand’s new cannabis laws will allow citizens to grow and sell cannabis and hemp products.
Restaurants will also be allowed to stock and serve cannabis-infused drinks and foods as long as the product contain less than 0.2% of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This is the main component in marijuana that makes users feel “high.” Hemp, which is virtually identical to cannabis except for its THC levels, has minimal to no THC.
Thailand’s cannabis policies will mainly be centered on medical marijuana. Already allowed by dozens of territories around the world, medical marijuana has been found to have potential in treating a variety of medical conditions.
Anutin says the country has no plans to be a recreational cannabis haven for tourists either, stating that Thailand will only promote medical cannabis policies. Tourists who wish to purchase medical cannabis products are free to visit, but those coming to indulge in adult-use cannabis are not welcome, he says.
Thailand is known for its tough anti-drug laws. As it stands, the Public Health act levies a punishment of up to three months in jail and a fine of $800 for lighting up in public. According to Anutin, the government has never considered legalizing cannabis for recreational consumption or to be used in ways that could “irritate others.”
The Public Health Ministry also announced that more than 3,000 inmates who were imprisoned for hemp- and cannabis-related drug offenses will soon be released. In wake of the legalization news, marijuana advocacy group Highland Legalization has organized a weekend festival that will involve panel discussions, musical performances and cannabis food sales.
However, some activists are still apprehensive about Thailand’s new cannabis policies as law enforcement hasn’t been as quick to adapt to changing laws. Thailand first decriminalized medical cannabis use in 2018 and has been steadily loosening its cannabis laws under Anutin’s watchful eye.
However, law enforcement hasn’t always kept up with these changes. A few weeks ago, a 56-year-old woman in eastern Chonburi Province who had diabetes and high blood pressure was arrested by plainclothes police officers after they saw a potted cannabis plant in her bedroom. Anutin states that the four officers have already been disciplined. He adds that the government will need to educate both law enforcers and ordinary citizens about the evolving cannabis laws.
As the strict marijuana laws around the region begin to loosen, an opportunity may be created for established cannabis companies such as Flora Growth Corp. (NASDAQ: FLGC) to expand into these emerging markets.
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