(Bloomberg) -- Thailand is set to decriminalize marijuana starting Thursday, the first such move in Asia, seeking to grab a slice of a growing market for marijuana-infused food and medicinal cannabis treatments.
It will no longer be a crime to grow and trade marijuana and hemp products, a move aimed at bolstering the country’s crucial agriculture and tourism sectors. However, prospects for the Thai cannabis trade will be limited by the country’s ban on recreational use and the production of anything with more than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound that gives users a “high” sensation.
Here’s all you need to know about cannabis liberalization in Thailand, a conservative, Buddhist-majority country also known for tough policies on drug trafficking and curbs on alcohol.
What’s driving Thailand toward liberalization?
Thailand’s cannabis liberalization began in 2018 with the legalization of medical marijuana.
The latest step to allow more people to grow cannabis was spearheaded by tycoon-turned politician Anutin Charnvirakul, who believes that controlled legalization of marijuana can boost agriculture and tourism. The deputy prime minister, who heads the health ministry, campaigned on a promise to legalize household marijuana and hemp cultivation to allow farmers to supplement their incomes.
What can and can’t you do after decriminalization?
It will no longer be a crime to use parts of the marijuana and hemp plants, which belong to the cannabis plant family.
Companies and individual farmers will be allowed to cultivate the plants in farms and gardens. Clinics across the nation can offer medical marijuana to treat various illnesses, and restaurants can serve cannabis-infused dishes and drinks with less than 0.2% THC.
However, extracts containing more than 0.2% THC are still against the law. Recreational use is still banned. Anyone found smoking marijuana for recreation will be subject to lengthy jail terms and fines.
What are Thailand’s advantages?
For centuries, Thais used cannabis in traditional medicine to relieve pain and fatigue. The country can claim some natural advantages, including a year-round tropical climate which means less need for artificial light and costly temperature controls.
Thailand was known as a cultivator of cannabis and producer of marijuana in the 1970s and 1980s, before the government cracked down in cooperation with the US war on drugs.
Thailand’s Health Ministry plans to distribute a million plants free of cost to households.
How are companies responding to the opportunity?
Restaurants serving cannabis-laced dishes and clinics offering medical marijuana treatments are all expecting more business, particularly from foreign visitors once the pandemic ends and global tourism resumes.
Meat producer Charoen Pokphand Foods Pcl, natural rubber maker Sri Trang Agro-Industry Pcl and seafood producer Thai Union Pcl have all expressed interest in investing in the cannabis industry. Eastern Spectrum Group, which grows hemp, offers a variety of cannabinoid solutions.
Read More: Thailand Bets on Private Medical Marijuana to Salve Economy (1)
What lies ahead for Thai cannabis growers?
Thai farmers and companies can start planting cannabis without the fear of arrests and lengthy jail terms. All they need to do is upload details of their plans on the nation’s health ministry website or on an app developed by the Food and Drug Administration.
The next step in the cannabis liberalization process is expected to be the approval of recreational use. While that may still be some years away, advocates for broader legalization are proposing a so-called cannabis sandbox, a limited area where recreational use is allowed. Such a feature is expected to boost Thailand’s tourism, and Phuket, Krabi and Koh Samui have been suggested as possible locations. Proponents say such an initiative, possibly in tandem with legalized casinos currently under discussion, could draw billions of dollars in tourist spending.
Read more: Thailand Clears Final Hurdle in Allowing Wider Use of Marijuana
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