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Thailand: First Asian Country to Legalize Cannabis

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In 2018, the government of Thailand, the second largest economy in Southeast Asia, brought about change to the cannabis household cultivation laws. Until recently they had draconian penalties for cannabis offenses like many other Asian countries. The progress means that since the law came into force in 2021, cannabis is officially legal in Thailand. Cannabis can be used in many industries already (read more about the use of Cannabis in the auto business here) and is improving the lives of many worldwide.

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Thailand’s Economy Hit

The corona crisis has also left its mark on Thailand’s economy. Entry restrictions have taken a toll on the country, and even though these have now been lifted, no more than 10,000,000 tourists are expected for the whole of 2022. That’s about a quarter of the visitors from before the pandemic began, but that isn’t the only problem. The inflation rate is 3.51%, the highest in 13 years, and growth is only 3%. The Minister of Health and leader of the Bhumjaithai Party, Anutin Charnvirakul, who promised legalization during the elections and was a decisive driving force in parliament, is now relying on creative ideas to get Thailand’s economy going again.

A Special Kind of Relief Package

Charnvirakul relies on a relief package that not only opens up new sources of income for the rural population but also boosts tourism – and indeed, it legalizes it. What’s more, as a starter package, he gave the population one million hemp seeds, and makes cultivation so easy for private individuals that registering in an app is all it takes, and off you grow. Commercial cultivation requires a license, but it means individuals can grow unlimited plants, both commercially and privately, and then even have the option to sell them to the government.

However, the plants all have a low THC content, and the production of extracts with more than 0.2% THC remains prohibited. Deputy Prime Minister Charnvirakul (yes he is that too!) speaks of “the start of a new growth industry” and expects this economic and legal pivot to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars more for Thais. He also says legalization is a win-win situation. People will have access to the plant and at the same time, the economy would be boosted. Although not everyone in the government is as convinced as Charnvirakul, time will tell.

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Cannabis in Thailand: Ambiguities and Adversaries

Thailand’s conservative government has seemingly recognized the economic benefits of legalization, but can’t get used to the image of a stoner’s paradise. Since 2021, it’s no longer become unusual to get an Iced Cannabis Americano from the coffee machine or to order a curry with a hemp side dish in a restaurant. However, in order not to let the legalization fail because of political hardliners, some points of legislation have remained remarkably unclear. For example, banning extracts with more than 0.2% THC doesn’t make much sense when you’re allowing higher-THC buds. This is the grey area of the legal situation, which has a gap in another key area: plant use. The current regulation is that cannabis should be used privately, albeit for medical purposes.

Which of course raises questions: Are you not allowed to consume your cultivated plants if you’re healthy? And what about prevention of poor health or disease? Ultimately, who wants to control that! “As long as the use is private, there shouldn’t be any problems,” says Arun Avery, co-founder of the activist group Highland, and a member of the cannabis research committee at a cancer hospital in northeast Thailand’s Udon Thani province. Apparently, this law is all about public relations and representations, but there’s a problem with this policy of discord, Avery explains. “The situation is probably still too unclear for investments by large companies,” he explains, meaning Cannabis retail chains like in parts of the USA will probably not exist in Thailand for the time being.

Free Cannabis – Free the People

A few resourceful and courageous farmers have already started growing cannabis in their fields in the last few weeks. Not without danger, because the law wasn’t yet in force, and they were criminals. However, nobody bothered to arrest them. The situation was quite different with a 56-year-old woman who had been in possession of a cannabis plant and was arrested as a result. The arrest was only temporary, and police quickly ruled them “inappropriate for legalization”, admitting officers should have exercised better judgment. It’s just not good publicity if you rely on tourists smoking weed.

And as if an apology from the police for arresting a woman with weed while it was still illegal wasn’t enough, Thailand is now bringing about what has been called for so long and loudly in Germany. An estimated 4,000 inmates serving time on cannabis-related charges will be released shortly. These 4,000 people will regain their lives and thousands more will benefit when their ongoing proceedings will be immediately dropped.

Final Words

Cannabis has been gaining more and more popularity in recent years, and its legalization will happen sooner or later. Thailand has just begun understanding how incredible this plant is, leading the way for Southeast Asia.

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