How Thailand became the first Asian nation to legalise marijuana: Explained
- Beginning on Friday, the public health minister is planning to distribute 1 million marijuana seedlings
- Thailand becomes first nation in Asia to decriminalise marijuana for medical and industrial use
- The dozen or so people who turned up early at the Highland Café were able to choose from a variety of buds
The public health minister's plan to distribute 1 million marijuana seedlings, beginning on Friday, has added to the impression that Thailand is turning into a weed wonderland.
The decision by the Food and Drug Administration to remove all of the plant from the category of narcotic drugs makes Thailand the first nation in Asia to decriminalise marijuana for medical and industrial use. But it is not following the examples of Uruguay and Canada, the only two countries so far that have legalised recreational marijuana on a national basis.
So far, it appears there will be no effort to police what people can grow and smoke at home, aside from registering to do so and declaring it is for medical purposes.
On Thursday, some Thai advocates celebrated by buying marijuana at a café that had previously been limited to selling products made from the parts of the plant that do not get people high.
The dozen or so people who turned up early at the Highland Café were able to choose from a variety of buds with names such as Sugarcane, Bubblegum, Purple Afghani and UFO.
"I can say it out loud, that I am a cannabis smoker. I don’t need to hide like in the past when it was branded as an illegal drug," said 24-year-old Rittipong Bachkul, the day’s first customer. Marijuana is also known as cannabis or ganja in Thailand.
"As far as the government is concerned, it's their job to promote medical use only. But it is pretty clear that we have come very far and finally are legalising its use. The government understands that it’s more pros than cons," said Rattapon Sanrak, the café's co-owner and a longtime legalisation activist.
The country is known for its Thai Stick variety, which is named after the way its potent flowers are dried and tied into sticks and is the origin of many strains now grown overseas.
Thailand’s government has warned those eager to light up for fun that smoking in public could still be considered a nuisance, subject to a potential 3-month jail sentence and 25,000 baht ($780) fine. And marijuana extracts, such as oil, remain illegal if they contain more than 0.2% of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical that makes people high.
Tourists should proceed cautiously until the rules become clearer after a new cannabis law is passed, said Prof. Sarana Sommano of Chiang Mai University's Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.
Thailand mainly wants to make a splash in the market for medical marijuana. It already has a well-developed medical tourism industry and its tropical climate is ideal for growing cannabis.
Some immediate beneficiaries of the change are people who have been locked up for breaking the old law.