With Strict Punishments in Place for Recreational Use, Thailand Proposes Legal Medical Marijuana

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First reported by Agence France-Presse, Thailand is hoping to become the first country in Asia to legalize medical marijuana tapping into the burgeoning world cannabis market.

Several nations have embraced the use of medicinal cannabis, including Canada, Australia, Israel, and more than half the states in the US.

Swift Reversal of Tough Laws

According to a Thai official, a draft bill now under consideration proposes allowing marijuana for medicinal purposes, a considerable change in a country known for tough drug trafficking laws.

Marijuana has previously remained illegal in Thailand, with stiff penalties for drug trafficking because the country remains a key regional transit hub and producer of narcotics.

For Economics Not Recreation

Jet Sirathraanon, the public health committee chair of Thailand's National Legislative Assembly, emphasized that marijuana would be legal "for medication only, not for recreation." But he added that legalizing the drug could be an economic boom and "an opportunity for Thai people."

But Thailand isn't the only country in the region contemplating cannabis reform and may see competition from South Korea. The Korea Herald reported in July, that Seoul also began amending narcotics laws to legalize the import of medical marijuana products.

Thailand wants to be first in Asia because the global medical marijuana market could reach $55.8 billion by 2025, according to an analysis published last year by Grand View Research.

Best in the World

Jet said Thailand has delayed making the change for too long while other countries have seized the moment, including legalizing exports.

During the 1980s, Thailand was one of the world's largest exporters of marijuana, Bloomberg News reports.  And Jet expects Thailand could again capture a good share of the global market with what he hailed as "the best marijuana in the world."

Jet noted the quality of the Southeast Asian country’s cannabis plants, which thrive in the Golden Triangle borderlands of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.

Draft Bill Sent

A draft bill to permit its limited use has been sent to the military junta’s National Legislative Assembly (NLA).

“We have submitted the bill to the speaker,” Jet Sirathraanon, told AFP, adding that it will have its first reading in the junta’s rubber-stamp parliament in less than one month.

Thailand's ruling military junta has previously debated drug reforms without much success, and the country's prisons are overcrowded with people convicted of minor drug offenses.

The idea of medical marijuana has long been more acceptable to broad swathes of society in the Buddhist-majority country, but junta officials have previously dismissed the need for reform.

There is Potential

Passing the bill would allow Thailand to take advantage of a rapidly expanding industry, which promises to aid patients suffering from conditions like arthritis, migraines and cancer.

Regional experts agree and see similar potential.

“Today, Thailand can produce awesome cannabis at a fraction of the cost of Western growers,” said Jim Plamondon, VP of Marketing at the Thai Cannabis Corporation, described as the country’s first legal marijuana firm.

“Tomorrow, Thailand will reclaim its cultural legacy, by becoming the world’s leading grower, processor, and manufacturer of cannabis products,” he said.

“Any company that is serious about cannabis should start moving its supply chain to Thailand.”

For Now, Harsh Reality

For now, marijuana remains illegal in Thailand, with severe punishments for those convicted of drug trafficking. A prominent smuggler from neighboring Laos was sentenced to life in prison in Bangkok in March, Agence France-Presse reported. He had initially faced the death penalty.

"It does seem hypocritical and cynical to be legalizing medical cannabis but maintaining harsh punishments for recreational users," writes Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst for the Transform Drug Policy Foundation in the U.K., in an email.

"The punitive model is symptomatic of a wider problem with entrenched prohibitionist thinking; it's proving hard to shake off despite the obvious cost and evidence of failure.”