In 2018, Thailand legalized medical marijuana and became the first Southeast Asian country to do so and is now close to legalizing recreational marijuana. The country’s Food and Drug Administration is inching closer to removing cannabis from its list of controlled drugs. If the Narcotics Control Board approves the proposal, it moves on for final approval from Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul before it will be official.
If passed, the new ruling would remove the threat of lengthy prison sentences and significant fines for cannabis convictions.
Because the plant is categorized as a category-5 narcotic, anyone convicted of producing, exporting, or importing cannabis faces two to 15 years in prison and fines of up to 1.5 million baht (USD 45,000).
Those caught in possession could serve up to five years in jail and a maximum penalty of 100,000 baht (USD 3,000).
Once the plant is delisted, all of those punishments are eliminated.
Thailand has previously pursued a piecemeal approach to marijuana legalization. Parts with low psychoactive components, such as leaves and stems, were cut from the list in December 2020.
But many laws continued to maintain strict controls on the growing, harvesting, and processing of cannabis. While possession of marijuana has been illegal, businesses have had access to the plant. This latest proposal would decriminalize buds and flowers, both of which are rich in psychoactive THC.
Chaiwat Sowcharoensuk, an analyst at Krungsri Research, concedes that while all parts of cannabis could be bought, sold, and used, it’s likely that extracts with higher THC levels will continue to be tightly regulated.
“Producers of soaps, beauty products, and cosmetics from marijuana will likely be the ones to benefit the most from decriminalization,” said Chaiwat.
Withid Sariddeechaikool, deputy secretary-general of the FDA, envisions several economic benefits from legalizing marijuana.
“If we’re able to decriminalize marijuana, we will be able to benefit from all of the plant and not just parts of it,” said Withid. “The flower buds and seeds could be used economically and in compliance of the law.”
Anutin Charnvirakul, a deputy prime minister and the public health minister, has strongly supported legalizing cannabis.
During the 2019 general elections, he pledged to legalize cannabis and allow households to grow up to six plants. This promise helped the Bhumjaithai, a political party, secure 51 seats, making it a core member of the ruling coalition. As the next general elections approach, Anutin has been pressing to keep his pledge.
There is also the hope and expectation that legalizing cannabis will revitalize Thailand’s tourism industry, which struggled during the coronavirus pandemic.
Internationally, Uruguay and Canada (the only sovereign states that allow both consumption and sale of cannabis) have seen an uptick in tourism.
The push to scrub cannabis from the country’s narcotics list comes after kratom, a Southeast Asia native plant whose leaves are used as a painkiller and mind stimulant, was decriminalized in 2020.
The more highly addictive drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine remain illegal in Thailand, with heavy punishments.