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A Cannabis Miracle in Asia

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Thailand FDA on marijuana controlled substance list

In Asia, a region notorious for its harsh drug laws, Thailand is making waves by becoming the first country in all of the region to legalize the use of cannabis medicinally as well as in food and cosmetics. They are going one step at a time while neighboring countries still impose deadly penalties for anyone caught using or selling the drug.

 

Just this week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of Thailand stated they were going to propose to remove cannabis from the controlled substances list, reports Bloomberg. If the board agrees, the next step would require approval from the Health Minister Anutin Charnivirakul, before the law is active in Thailand. Should this go to plan, it would mean that Thai citizens could enjoy easier access to cannabis without worrying about going to jail or having to pay big fines.

 

“If we’re able to decriminalize marijuana, we will be able to benefit from all of the plant and not just parts of it,” explains Within Sariddeechaikool, the FDA deputy secretary-general. “The flower buds and seeds could be used economically and in compliance of the law.”  Thailand has been doing baby steps to decriminalize cannabis, still keeping some laws which limit growing and harvesting of the crop even if it could have significant economic benefits. If cannabis is still considered a narcotic, people can’t possess it though it opens up business access to the plant.

 

“While the law change will allow all parts of cannabis to be bought, sold and used, recreational use will likely remain controlled as marijuana extracts with higher tetrahydrocannabinol levels that get people high will still be regulated,” said Chaiwat Sowcharoensuk, an analyst at the Krungsri Research firm. “Producers of soaps, beauty products, and cosmetics from marijuana will likely be the ones to benefit the most from the decriminalization.”

 

Long Time Coming

 

Thais have been using cannabis since antiquity for treating several diseases, and it has also been used in traditional medicines. Meanwhile, the fibers of the plant were used to make rope and clothing.

 

However, in the last few decades, the plant more commonly known as ganja, was controversial in Thailand as well as in other countries around Southeast Asia. During the 1960’s, a time of cultural and moral reform in the United States where psychedelic drugs were widely used after the wars in Southeast Asia. Thailand was home to the US bases for soldiers fighting in Vietnam, and it was also the official destination for soldiers on holiday. Because of the ties between the US and Thailand, they had a “gentleman’s agreement” where the American bases in Thailand were part of the Royal Thai Air Force, and operated by local officers. They had full access to the bases though the US still retained command of their officers serving in the Kingdom.

 

The time spent by American soldiers in Thailand helped shape it culturally. Not only did they contribute to hospitality and nightlife culture, but this was also a time when they experimented with recreational cannabis use. There are some reports that the US troops started using cannabis upon arrival in the 60’s though there are no official records of this.

 

By 1979, the Narcotics Act was officially enacted by the Thai government, which forbade cannabis use, and indicated that the cannabis plant as well as all its derivatives were category 5 narcotics or, in other words, prohibited substances. That did not stop Thais from consuming it illegally and from foreign tourists from finding their own sources (it was a popular hippie destination in the region for many decades), though many locals lobbied to the government to legalize its use especially for commercial and personal use.

 

Come February 2003 and a drug war was launched by then Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Of course, it was aimed at eliminating drug trafficking which was widely going on at the time. But it did not have positive results, with around 2,800 arbitrary extrajudicial killings that occurred within its first 3 months. Sadly, in 2007, it was discovered during an official investigation that over half of those people who were killed weren’t even connected to drugs. 

 

By 2018, the government finally started taking action to remove cannabis from the list of prohibited drugs. A regulation was passed which allowed hemp to be legally cultivated for non-commercial and industrial purposes, such as in the use for research, development, and household cooking. In 2019, bigger steps through the amendment of the Narcotics Act came; it legalized the use of medical marijuana but with restrictions. The government has since continued to work with the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) as well as the FDA so that cannabis products could be reclassified  and new regulatory laws would help make cannabis a viable cash crop for the economy.

 

In August 2019, food, drugs, cosmetics, and beverages that contained hemp were removed from the Narcotics Act. It was also during this time that cannabis was already being taken seriously by government officials and political parties. In December 2020, a notification from the MOPH, which was released in the Government Gazette, indicated that the delisting of cannabis from the Narcotics Act would remove almost all the parts of the cannabis as well as hemp plant.

 

Keep in mind that foreign participants are still not allowed to participate in any cannabis business until the 5-year ban on foreign participation from Feb 2019 has culminated. Until then, only members of the Thai government and their official partners can benefit from these laws. That can’t stop you from enjoying some CBD drinks at a Thai café, though.

 

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