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Thailand decriminalizing marijuana—2022 Update

Thailand becomes the first Asian country to decriminalize marijuana. But there’s a lot more than what meets the eye. Find all details right here!

On January 25, 2022, Thailand’s health minister announced that the Thailand Narcotics Agency has left cannabis out of the ministry’s list of controlled drugs. 

With that, Thailand became the first Asian nation to decriminalize cannabis.

The news has induced a rush of positive sentiments among cannabis enthusiasts in Thailand and across the world. Some have gone as long as to call it a new dawn for the Thai cannabis industry. 

But there’s a lot more to know than you’d find in sensational headlines. So we took the pains of digging deep and finding real, raw, and valuable information about the bold move by the Thai government. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the decriminalization of marijuana in Thailand

This wholesome piece will cover the following topics:

  • The basics of cannabis and marijuana
  • The turn of events that led to the decriminalization of cannabis in Thailand
  • What does the move exactly mean
  • Impact of the decriminalization on the economy of Thailand
  • Effects on the global cannabis industry

Feel free to jump to the section that most interestS you. 

What is marijuana and why was it illegal in Thailand? 

Marijuana also called cannabis is a psychoactive drug obtained from the cannabis plant. The plant, native to Central and Southern Asia, has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. It is also widely used for recreational and entheogenic purposes. 

Hemp and marijuana both belong to the same species. And Thailand has decriminalized cannabis, which includes both hemp and marijuana. 

The consumption of marijuana is done either by smoking, vaping, adding it to food, or as an extract. 

Marijuana is locally called ‘ganja’ in Thailand, which also points to the fact that it may have been introduced in the country from India. (Ganja is the Indian term for marijuana.)

In Thailand, laborers had used ganja for relaxing muscles and women used it to ease labor pain. However, in the 1930s, the possession, sale, and use of cannabis was banned. 

The law came into effect with the Cannabis Act, B.E. 2477 (1935). The act was later revoked and replaced by the Narcotics Act 2522 (1979). 

The Psychotropic Substances Act 2518 (1975) is another legal enactment that governed the fate of cannabis in the country. 

“LOGIC is …to question the ban of a plant that can serve humans in 50,000 ways.”

There are several pieces of research and studies that validate the claims. And given the long history of its use in Thailand, the ban does seem misplaced. 

Well, here’s the primary reason that got marijuana banned in Thailand (and many other countries across the globe): Tetrahydrocannabinol. 

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the 483 known components of the cannabis plant. And this psychoactive element that leads to mind-altering effects upon consumption is the main rationale behind marijuana being illegal across several countries in the world. 

The journey of marijuana decriminalization in Thailand 

The Narcotics Act in Thailand categorizes cannabis as a class 5 narcotics.  The act restricts people from producing, importing, exporting, disposing of, possessing, or consuming cannabis.

However, cannabis has been proven to have beneficial effects for patients struggling with several medical conditions including cancer and Alzheimers among other diseases. 

Keeping that in mind, legalizing at least the medical use of cannabis was important to ensure the accessibility of this alternative form of healthcare for Thai people. 

So, in February 2019, the Narcotics Act (No. 7), B.E. 2562 (2019) was proclaimed and the Narcotics Act was amended to allow the medical use of certain class 5 narcotics – cannabis and kratom. Use for research purposes was also allowed. 

This landmark legislation was the first step in the journey of marijuana decriminalization in Thailand. 

Further relaxations were rolled out in December 2020 when certain parts (and extracts) of cannabis (marijuana and hemp) were dropped from the list of class 5 narcotics. It meant that certain parts of the cannabis plant would not attract charges and fines designated for class 5 narcotics. However, some of the conditions in this clause were:

  • The parts and extracts should be grown/produced in Thailand.
  • These parts and extracts could only be used for research and health-related purposes. 
  • Leaves and parts with cannabidiol (CBD) with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) of less than 0.2% of weight were excluded.  

Other than that, the fine print read:

  • Users of medical marijuana need a prescription by a certified physician.
  • Patients can carry only as much medical marijuana on their person, as is prescribed by the doctor.  
  • Tourists visiting Thailand will also need to carry medical certificates to bring marijuana to the country. Non-compliance would lead to confiscation of the marijuana stash and other legal complications. 

As for growing marijuana by households, only roots, leaves, the stalk, and the stem can be used by individuals. Anything with over 0.2% THC (flower, buds, and seeds) has to be handed over to the authorities.

Homegrown marijuana can be used in food or cosmetics or sold for these purposes. 

Another big step in the journey came on December 30, 2020, when the Ministerial Regulation Re. Application and License for Production, Import, Export, Selling or Possession of Hemp was gazetted. It allowed people and businesses to apply for a license to produce, import, export, distribute and possess cannabis. The application process began on January 29, 2021. 

And on January 25 this year, Thailand’s positive movement towards cannabis reached another high when even flowers, buds, and seeds were dropped from the list of controlled drugs. 

Health minister Anutin Charnvirakul has been instrumental in this entire journey. 

Anutin belongs to the Bhumjai Thai Party, which is a major partner in the coalition government ruling in Thailand presently. Charnvirakul not just championed this decriminalization but is also seen taking efforts to promote the cannabis industry in the country.  

Decoding the move – What does it actually mean? 

It often happens that legal lingo and misunderstood government notifications land you into a legal mess. 

To avoid that, we went over the decriminalization of marijuana in Thailand with a fine-toothed comb. And we found out what exactly does the move means. 

To begin with, Thailand’s health minister announced on January 25 2022 that the Narcotics Control Board had approved dropping cannabis from the list of controlled drugs. This means that the move has not officially been made yet. It was just an announcement that the move will be made. 

The next step in the process is that it has to be formally signed by the health minister. And then, it will come into effect 120 days after being published in a government gazette. 

Also, the parts of the cannabis plant with THC levels higher than 0.2% still remain on the list of controlled drugs. It is important to note that the 0.2% threshold is not unique to Thailand and countries across the globe follow the classification. 

So, the production, processing, sale, import, export, and use of cannabis is currently still illegal in Thailand. It will become legal only after it has been gazetted. 

it is yet unclear whether possession of marijuana will remain an offense worth an arrest.

Furthermore, permissions are required for the production, processing, sale, and use of cannabis. Without proper legal permission from the relevant authorities, it still remains illegal. 

Impact on recreational use

The official statements from the Thai government or any other relevant authorities have not cleared the air around the recreational use of marijuana. It remains in the gray area still. 

Now, THC is the principal high-inducing substance in marijuana. And cannabis with more than 0.2% of THC content remains illegal. This makes doing two plus two simple and we can come to the conclusion that though marijuana has been decriminalized in Thailand, its recreational use still remains off-limits. 

Effects of marijuana decriminalization on Thailand and the world

Estimates suggest that by 2024, the cannabis market in Thailand will be valued between US$660 million to US$2.5 billion. 

With the decriminalization of cannabis, it is expected that the actual data will be closer to the upper threshold or even exceed it. 

Other than a strong impetus to the financial aspect of the cannabis industry, here are some effects that we will be able to see across Thailand and the world:

As of November 2020, there were 311 medical clinics that were set up to dispense medical cannabis. This number is expected to increase which will help in solving the infrastructural and accessibility issues related to medical marijuana in the country. 

This would be a transformational move towards making healthcare more accessible for Thai citizens. The logical next step in this regard would be to put medicines with cannabis extracts on the main drug list of the country. 

This would make these medicines come under the universal coverage policy of the country. And with that, these drugs would become actually more accessible to the citizens. 

Thailand is a predominantly agricultural country. The decriminalization of cannabis will push more farmers towards growing hemp and marijuana, which can be great cash crops for Thailand’s economy. 

Thailand also thrives on tourism and with medical marijuana being accessible, available, and allowed in the country, the country can see a boost in medical tourism. This would, in turn, boost the Thai economy too, which currently is struggling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

For marijuana enthusiasts outside Thailand, however, the move has limited immediate effects. 

This is because

  • Companies incorporated in Thailand but with a foreign majority and foreign companies are not allowed to produce, process, sell, export, or import cannabis. 
  • Foreign players will be allowed in any cannabis-related business after a 5-year freeze-off period which ends on February 20, 2024. This step is taken with a view to safeguard and promote the local Thai cannabis industry, which is still in its nascent stages. 
  • For Thailand’s neighbors in Asia, this move can be a motivation to legalize cannabis and avail the many social, economic, and medical benefits it offers. 

That was all the currently available information about Thailand decriminalizing marijuana. All that’s left for us now is to wait and see how things roll out. 

Appendix

Sources:

  1. https://time.com/6142360/thailand-decriminalizes-marijuana/
  2. https://www.conventuslaw.com/report/the-journey-of-cannabis-and-hemp-in-thailand/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannabis_in_Thailand
    1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannabis_(drug)
  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/dariosabaghi/2022/01/27/thailand-has-become-the-first-asian-country-to-decriminalize-recreational-cannabis/?sh=3d6446594b21
  5. https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/2249635/drug-code-sows-cannabis-confusion 
  6. https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/2230303/ministry-pushes-full-cannabis-legalisation 
  7. https://www.tilleke.com/insights/decriminalization-of-narcotics-clarified-by-thailands-ministry-of-public-health/ 
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