Thailand officially legalized the cultivation, sale and possession of cannabis June 9, joining the likes of Canada and Uruguay to fully reform its drug policy for adult use at the federal level.
The end to prohibition comes nearly six months after Thailand began the shift toward becoming the first country in Asia to decriminalize cannabis: Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul announced Jan. 25 that Thailand’s Narcotics Control Board approved dropping cannabis from the ministry’s list of controlled drugs. He signed the measure in early February.
Thailand’s parliament voted to approve cannabis for medical use in 2018—also a first in Asia. The loosening of those restrictions has since attracted tourism from its Southeast Asia neighbors, The Associated Press reported.
“We should know how to use cannabis,” Charnvirakul said recently, the AP reported. “If we have the right awareness, cannabis is like gold, something valuable, and should be promoted.”
With full legalization taking effect Thursday, the government’s plan to distribute 1 million cannabis seedlings to its citizens will begin Friday. In a tropical region with its capital city of Bangkok within 1,000 miles of the equator, Thailand’s shortest day of the year still receives more than 11 hours of sunlight while average temperatures range from 82 degrees to 89 degrees throughout the year—an ideal climate for outdoor cultivation.
The removal of cannabis from the country’s controlled drugs list means all parts of the plant are allowed to be used. Previously, flower and seeds were prohibited. However, extracted content greater than 0.2% THC will remain illegal.
Thursday’s legalization also comes after Thailand’s government amended its drug laws last year in an effort to reduce the number of people in prison.
Southeast Asia has some of the world’s toughest penalties for drug use and possession, and Thailand has the largest prison population among the 10 member states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with more than 80% of people in prison held for drug offenses, according to the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC).
Under new law, thousands of people will be released from Thailand prisons, Gloria Lai, Asia regional director of the IDPC, told the AP. One of her organization’s main objectives is to promote policies that would discourage countries from stigmatizing, punishing and repressing people because of their drug use.
“From our perspective, a major positive outcome of the legal changes is that at least 4,000 people imprisoned for offenses relating to cannabis will be released,” Lai said of Thailand’s legalization. “People facing cannabis-related charges will see them dropped, and money and cannabis seized from people charged with cannabis-related offenses will be returned to their owners.”
While Canada and Uruguay have regulations and oversight for their federally legalized cannabis programs, the guidelines for what people can grow and consume in their private residences remains less clear in Thailand, where those who choose to home cultivate must simply register to do so and declare it is for medical purposes, according to the AP.
While Thailand’s 2022 decriminalization law signed by Charnvirakul removes all parts of the cannabis plant from the country’s Category V list of controlled drugs (that includes heroin, opium, methamphetamine, cocaine), public use of cannabis could still be construed as a public nuisance and punishable by up to three months imprisonment with a fine, Thailand government officials cautioned.
The Bhumjai Thai Party, which Charnvirakul leads, was expected to provide further clarity on the plant’s legal status when Charnvirakul signed the decriminalization measure in February, but some rules remain less clear under the new law, professor Sarana Sommano of Chiang Mai University’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences told the AP.
“There are still risks. The problem is that cannabis is no longer considered a narcotic but there are no ministry regulations and rules governing the use of it,” she said. “There is no mention of limits on use, drug-impaired driving laws. This could be a mistake by the government in trying to rush out its policy to please voters without really planning the details and explaining to the public what’s going on.”
Cannabis businesses planning to operate under the new law only need permission from Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration to cultivate cannabis and manufacture products, which the government still views as medicine and food additives, Cannabis Business Times previously reported.