Thailand legalizes marijuana – with gray areas and caveats

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Thailand on Thursday legalized the growth and trade of marijuana within defined parameters, becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to do so.

Thai Minister of Health Anutin Charnvirakul told CNN that he hopes the move will help boost the country’s struggling economy, especially its agriculture sector, which has been hit hard by rising fertilizer prices amid global supply chain disruptions.

The country’s tropical climate makes it an ideal place to grow the plant – and the government has taken steps to cultivate it as a cash crop. The health minister said last month that the government would distribute one million free cannabis plantsto revive the sector.

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Although Thailand legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2018, Anutin warns that those caught using the drug in “unproductive ways”, such as smoking joints outdoors, will be still face stiff penalties and could face up to three months behind bars. and a fine of approximately $780. Officials said they were not looking to cultivate marijuana-fueled tourism.

“We [have always] has emphasized the use of cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical and health purposes,” Anutin told CNN. “There was never a single moment when we thought of recommending people use cannabis recreationally – or use it in a way that might irritate others.”

Although this may be the official line, changes in practice are likely to create substantial gray areas. An official from the Ministry of Health told Reuters that nearly 100,000 people had already signed up, on a government app called PlookGanja, to grow marijuana legally. There seems to be a limited tendency to actively monitor what people grow and smoke for their own use, the Associate Press reported.

Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration has removed marijuana and hemp from its list of Category 5 narcotics, allowing cafes and restaurants across the country to serve cannabis-infused products that contain no more than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound of the plant.

According to the Thai Industrial Hemp Trade Association, the market value of marijuana-related businesses is estimated at over $1 billion and is expected to nearly double by 2024. The Global Cannabis Report, a trade publication, says the legal market marijuana is currently worth $100 billion worldwide.

Uruguay and Canada are the only two countries to have fully legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Since 2018, the possession and consumption of cannabis has been legalized in Georgia. More recently, at the end of 2021, Malta became the first country in the European Union to legalize recreational cannabis for personal use. A Supreme Court decision in Mexico last year could open the door to legalization there.

But some places have moved in the opposite direction. This week, the Hong Kong government announced plans to criminalize the manufacture, import, export, sale and possession of products containing CBD, a chemical extracted from cannabis that does not induce euphoria and is marketed to treat anxiety and insomnia.

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