Thailand legalizes marijuana, but recreational use on the street remains banned
Thailand became the first country in Asia to decriminalize cannabis, although penalties will still apply to those who recreationally use the drug, Thai authorities have warned. The relaxation of Thailand's cannabis laws follows the country's landmark decision in 2018 to allow the use of medical marijuana.
Harsh penalties remain in place under the Public Health Act, including up to three months in jail and a 25,000 Thai baht fine ($800) for consuming cannabis in public.
“The department of health will issue an announcement determining that the smell and fumes from cannabis and hemp is a cause of nuisance under the Public Health Act,” Thongchai Keeratihattayakorn, deputy permanent secretary of the Public Health Ministry told Thai media.
Cafes and restaurants can serve cannabis-infused food and drinks, but only if the products contain less than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant's main psychoactive compound.
Under decriminalization, it is no longer a crime to grow and trade marijuana and hemp products, or use parts of the plant to treat illnesses.
"We have always emphasized using cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical purposes and health", said Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul. "There has never once been a moment that we would think about encouraging people to use cannabis in terms of recreation”, he added.
"Thailand will promote cannabis policies for medical purposes. If tourists come for medical treatment or come for health-related products, then it's not an issue, but if you want to come to Thailand just because you heard that marijuana is legal.... that's wrong”, said Anutin.
The Health Minister said he expected legal cannabis production to boost the economy, even though recreational use of the drug remains illegal. He said he hopes the Thai cannabis industry will generate billions of dollars in income by boosting agriculture.
"We expect the value of the cannabis industry to easily exceed $2 billion," he said, highlighting recent incentives such as collaborating with the Agriculture Ministry to distribute 1 million free cannabis plants to households across the country.
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"I think Thai people are excited and eager to be players, either as investors or product makers as well as consumers. With today's technology and marketing strategies, Thailand will be second to none in being able to promote cannabis products in the global market", said the Health Minister.
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More than 3,000 inmates serving prison terms for cannabis and hemp-related drug offences will be released, following announcements from Anutin's Public Health Ministry.
Huge festivities are planned this weekend, according to CNN. One event, organized by Highland Legalization, a Thai marijuana advocacy group, will see two days of musical performances, panel discussions and cannabis food sales.
Activists have long complained that loopholes in the law send conflicting messages. Just weeks ago, a 56-year-old woman was arrested at her home in eastern Chonburi province after plainclothes police officers spotted a potted cannabis plant in her bedroom, according to CNN.
The woman’s husband later clarified that she had high blood pressure and diabetes and they had been cultivating the plant to add to their food. Commenting on the case, Anutin said the four officers involved were given warnings and were suspended.
Kitty Chopaka, a Bangkok-based cannabis entrepreneur who has pushed for legalization for years, welcomed the relaxation but told CNN that even so, noting recent arrests she advocates a cautious approach.
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“We should know how to use cannabis”, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, had said recently, according to TIME. “If we have the right awareness, cannabis is like gold, something valuable, and should be promoted.”