As of today, Thailand has become the first country in Asia to remove marijuana from it’s narcotics list, making the plant legal to grow, smoke, and digest – at least for medical purposes.
“We [have always] emphasized using cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical purposes and for health…” Thai Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told CNN in a recent interview, but made sure to stress that the decriminalization most certainly did not extend to recreational use. “We still have regulations under the law that control the consumption, smoking or use of cannabis in non-productive ways.”
Though people may not be able to wander the streets, lighting up joints or rolling up blunts – as there will still be fines and penalties in place for recreational use – the Thai government is not only decriminalizing the plant, it is giving away 1 million plants as part of an incentive to allow people to grow their own in the comforts of their home as long as they register with the government that its use will be for medical purposes. The country’s climate, a mixture of high humidity and heat, makes the climate ideal for a thriving medical-cannabis industry to bloom, which does not seem to be lost on Anutin.
Son of Thailand’s former Minister of the Interior under Abhisit Vejjajiva, and heir to his families considerable fortune through Sino-Tech Engineering and PCL Construction, Anutin pointed out that the crop would undoubtedly be a boon to the overall wealth of the country, citing they anticipated the value of the cannabis industry to exceed upwards $2 billion dollars.
The impact on the country will not just be felt in a financial capacity. Where previous possession of a ‘minor amount’ of cannabis could land you in prison for upwards of a year, along with a hefty fine, the landmark decision will set free over 3000 people currently serving sentences for cannabis consumption or possession.
Free cannabis plants. Prisoners released from their cells. Billions of dollars boosted in the economy. For all intents and purposes, it sounds like a near utopia. Cannabis advocates remain tentatively optimistic. Perhaps with good reason.
While other states and countries have decriminalized cannabis either medically or recreationally, the legalization of the industry has also come at a cost. For better or worse, cannabis has been an illegal industry for decades. Which means that the sudden shift to decriminalization leaves policy makers and governments with little to know idea on how to successfully regulate it. The implementation of expensive licensing fees, and extremely muddle processes for obtaining licensing can greatly impact the ability for small, mom-and-pop growers and distributors to make their way into the industry. Leaving large corporations with teams of lawyers, accountants and tons of money to monopolize the industry.
Irrespective of the what if’s involved, the precedent this decision has set could have a far reaching impact on the global decriminalization map.
Chicana journalist, editor, educator, and organizer in Sacramento whose sole focus is to shed light on stories on our most impacted and marginalized communities, but even more importantly, for those stories to humanize those normally left out. She is an Ida B Wells Investigative Journalism Fellow 2022 Finalist, a member of the Parenting Journalists Society, and has bylines in The Courier, The Sacramento Bee, The Americano, Submerge Magazine among others.