In Thailand, there is a long cultural tradition of using cannabis for medicinal and therapeutic purposes. Like many of its neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, however, Thailand has historically imposed harsh anti-drug laws that strongly penalize cannabis cultivation and use. But late last year, the nation of nearly 70 million people became the first in the region to legalize medical cannabis. And now, Thai lawmakers are pushing to develop policies aimed at creating a robust medical cannabis industry.
In a policy document released July 21 ahead of a key national assembly debate set for Thursday, Thai leaders call for accelerating research and developing technologies to bring marijuana, hemp and other medicinal herbs into the country’s medical industry. The policy document also sets out the unique goal of enabling all Thai citizens to grow and sell cannabis for medical purposes.
Thai Lawmakers Propose Policies to Jumpstart Medical Marijuana Industry
In March 2019, Thailand held its first election since the 2014 military coup d’état that installed coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minster. Following the controversial March elections, Prayuth held on to power to head up Thailand’s civilian government with a ruling coalition of 19 parties. One of the largest parties of that coalition, the Bhumjaithai Party, made developing Thailand’s medical cannabis industry a central part of its agenda. And since the election, the party has been demanding policy action from Thai lawmakers and the prime minister.
One of the leading voices pushing to make medical marijuana a part of the government’s agenda is Bhumjaithai party leader Anutin Charnvirakul. Charnvirakul serves as deputy prime minster and health minister. And in statements to Thai media, Charnvirakul has called for changes to the banned drugs list and new rules to make it easier for hospitals to prescribe drugs containing CBD and THC.
The health minister has also called for highly permissive cultivation laws that would permit all Thais to grow and produce medical cannabis to make money. All of those demands are part of a policy document Reuters obtained Sunday. “The study and technological development of marijuana, hemp and other medicinal herbs should be sped up for the medical industry to create economic opportunity and income for the people,” the policy document said.
Policy Shift Could Position Thailand as Major Regional Cannabis Supplier
Support for a legal medical marijuana industry is widespread across Thailand and backed by the ruling military government. Late last year, the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly approved medical marijuana legalization with a vote of 166 to 0 (13 abstaining). After the vote, the lawmaker in charge of drafting the medical marijuana bill called its passage “a New Year’s gift from the National Legislative Assembly to the government and the Thai people.”
Indeed, economic analysts predict a medical marijuana industry in Thailand could be a gift to the whole region. According to Bloomberg, the forecast for the legal cannabis market in Asia is expected to grow to $8.5 billion over the next five years. Those projections are prompting some in Prime Minister Prayuth’s coalition to push for full recreational legalization. It’s a move that has the support of deputy prime minister and health minister Charnvirakul, whose positions in government make it easy for him to change regulations and laws surrounding cannabis cultivation and patient access.
The Thai government is also taking steps to prevent its nascent industry from being overtaken by international cannabis conglomerates. Sopon Mekthon, who heads Thailand’s medical cannabis research efforts with the Government Pharmaceutical Organization, said “we want to be a leader in marijuana. And we have traditional Thai medicine knowledge that’s over 300 years old.”
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