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Thailand is on its way to becoming the first Asian country to legalize medical cannabis

November 30, 2018 07:48 pm ET
Thailand is on its way to becoming the first Asian country to legalize medical cannabis

A bill is currently pending with the National Legislative Assembly in Thailand and would make Thailand the first Asian country to legalize medical marijuana. This is a huge step for the cannabis industry in the continent since there are strong drug trafficking laws throughout Asia.

In Singapore and Malaysia drug trafficking has carried the death penalty, while South Korea has prohibited its citizens from consuming cannabis abroad in jurisdictions where the plant is legal.

The public health committee chair of Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly, Jet Sirathraanon, stressed that cannabis would be legal “for medication only, not for recreation.” He also added that legalizing marijuana could bring an economic boom for the country and “an opportunity for Thai people.”

According to an analysis published in 2017 by Grand View Research, the global medical cannabis industry is expected to reach $55.8 billion by 2025.

Dr. Somyot Kittimunkong is a physician who has been advocating for the medical cannabis law for several years. He spoke with Vice and they reported that there are already many Thai people using marijuana for medical purposes.

“I’ve seen it a lot,” said Kittimunkong. “I’ve seen doctors, a judge, and even high-level [government] ministers use cannabis oil to treat cancer. It’s soldiers, police, and many, many more. I think in every occupation you can imagine, you’ll find people using cannabis oil in Thailand as a treatment of their cancer.”

Kittimunkong also said that medical cannabis legalization is currently gaining support from the country’s leaders, who apparently began recognizing the economic potential of legal marijuana for the country.

Marijuana history in Thailand goes way back to a time when cannabis was once classified as a traditional herb medicine in the country. In 1979, the drug was scheduled as a narcotic under the Narcotic Drugs Act, prohibiting the production, sales, and possession of marijuana.

Kitty Chopaka, the chief marketing officer for the pro-legalization group the Highland Network, said that “Marijuana has always been a part of Thailand’s culture”

Marijuana has always been a part of Thailand’s culture…For centuries, farmers would go out to the field, they would use kratom, by chewing the kratom leaves. Then they’d go home and smoke a bong. They’d smoke so that they could eat, relax, and then go to sleep. And then do the same thing all over again.

Kitty Chopaka, CMO of Highland Network

The executive managing director of the Government Pharmaceutical Organization and part of the Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Nopporn Cheanklin, has long been lobbying the military government for the approval of medical cannabis research and development in Thailand.

“The best strains of cannabis in the world 20 years ago were from Thailand, and now Canada has developed this strain until up to this day, we can’t claim that ours is the best in the world anymore,” Cheanklin said. “That’s why we must develop our strain to be able to compete with theirs.”

The Asia regional director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, Gloria Lai, said that the legalizing medical cannabis in Thailand could stimulate similar action throughout Asia. This would help to change what an entire region feels about marijuana.

“It is a positive shift from policy-making based on morality and ideology to being based on evidence,” said Lai. “It is likely that some other countries will follow suit, as there has been some consideration for permitting medical use of cannabis in South Korea, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines already.”

It seems that medical cannabis may be at the point of reaching a global wave of legalization.

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