The national government of Thailand will distribute one million free cannabis plants to households across the country in June to encourage citizens to grow natural medicine at home.
This came after the kingdom’s decision to allow its citizens to grow cannabis plants at home for medical purposes, after notifying their local government. The plant cannot be distributed commercially without an appropriate license beginning June 9.
Large-scale cannabis enterprises will still require permission from the country’s own Food and Drug Administration to make these products, which are used mainly for medicines or food additives.
Cannabis advocates said allowing households to grow the plant at home can help the predominantly agricultural nation to boost its recovery from the devastation caused by the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Moreover, the government hopes this could attract more foreign tourists, who have since returned to Thailand in large numbers.
Thailand’s Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul argued that this could enable people and the government to generate over 10 billion baht ($288 million) per year in revenue from marijuana and hemp. He urged Thais to grow as many cannabis plants as they like. “People can showcase their cannabis and hemp-related products wisdom and sell their products nationwide,” he said.
In 2018, Thailand became the first Southeast Asian nation to legalize medical marijuana. Since then, it has been legal in Thailand to sell cannabis products with less than 0.2 percent tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. Recreational use of the drug is still outlawed in the country.
Punishment for the growth of cannabis without notifying the government includes a fine of up to 20,000 baht ($576.5). Those who sell it without a license faces a fine of up to 300,000 baht ($8,648) or three years in jail or both.
This decision is the latest step in Thailand’s plan to promote cannabis as a cash crop, as about a third of its labor force works in agriculture.
However, rather than become a “stoner paradise,” people envision it being folded into the medical and well-being industry.
Thailand hopes that its move to legalize marijuana will lead to an increase in jobs and improve economic development in the country. Last year, the use of hemp and cannabidiol or CBD (which does not give users a high) was approved, leading to a rush in the launch of drinks and cosmetics with these ingredients.
Areas in Thailand, from Chiang Mai in the north to beach resorts such as Phuket and Pattaya, have built cafes, spas and restaurants offering products infused with CBD. The new legislation could help these places expand their products to include other components of the cannabis plant as well.
Pittaway Taechanarong, the marketing manager of the Green Wellness Clinic in Bangkok and co-founder of the online cannabis store Bloom, said the announcement means his business can explore new therapies and products. Bloom typically sold items such as CBD popcorn, ice cream and soap. (Related: Could medical marijuana be a solution to the opioid epidemic?)
Thailand’s International Sustainable Development Studies Institute Executive Director Mark Ritchie said the delisting of cannabis could also help the rural economy.
Authorities are also exploring the idea of a “cannabis sandbox,” which would allow tourists to use the drug recreationally in select areas. This will create destinations synonymous with the drug.
There were 39.9 million tourists who visited Thailand in 2019. However, this year, an estimated 27.7 million will visit purely for health and wellness, putting expenditure on health and wellness tourism at $2.5 billion. The recreational cannabis market, however, has the potential to be worth $424 million by 2024. (Related: Is cannabis the key to treating epilepsy?)
Carl K. Linn, the author of a newsletter about cannabis, said he is optimistic that the bill will help Thailand build its economy post-pandemic. While nothing as small as marijuana can save its economy, Linn said he believes it could provide a spark.
Ritchie agreed, saying that while Thailand has done well with COVID-19, the economy has been really impacted, and he won’t be surprised if the cannabis industry is part of the government’s solution to help boost the economy.
Kitty Chopaka, a cannabis advocate from Bangkok said people from Australia, the U.K. and Canada have already contacted her regarding plans to visit Thailand. “People are going to come to Thailand trying to find cannabis,” she said.
Depending on what the finalized bill will allow, the legalization of cannabis could lead other southeast Asian countries to follow Thailand’s path.
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