How Thailand Became Southeast Asia's Cannabis Paradise?

The cannabis expo in Thailand features multiple forums on cannabis, with many experts attending and discussing various topics related to agriculture, economics, finance, healthcare, and legal regulations.

The Thailand Cannabis Expo attracts over 200+ global supply chain enterprises every year. The exhibits cover a wide range of areas such as agricultural irrigation, cultivation, medicine, cosmetics, pet CBD, and application products, making it the largest professional cannabis expo in Asia.

On Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok’s most international street, amidst the kaleidoscopic chaos of neon lights, a new symbol has emerged — the ubiquitous bright green cannabis leaf pattern. This signifies that since the legalization of cannabis in Thailand in June 2022, the country’s cannabis industry has been on the rise.

Within a 2-kilometer radius of the bustling downtown Nana BTS station, you’ll pass more than 40 pharmacies selling cannabis flowers and everything you might need to use them.

Heading in the opposite direction takes you to the famous backpacker hotspot, Khao San Road, where there’s an entire shopping mall themed around cannabis called “Plantopia.” The shops there are subtly enveloped in the smoke from customers testing their products.

According to the website Weed in Thailand, there are currently over 4,000 businesses in Thailand involved in selling cannabis and related products.

However, before June 2022, simply possessing cannabis in Thailand could land you in prison for five years, with a maximum sentence of 15 years for production and even the death penalty for severe cases. The rapid shift in the country’s attitude towards cannabis is astonishing.

Thai citizen Amanda has converted her small apartment into a grow room, with the balcony set up with reflective tents and powerful lights to carefully tend to her seven cannabis plants.

Her cat is no longer allowed in this room. She says she no longer has to worry about police raids, and it’s a huge relief.

Recently, there have been discussions among various political parties in Thailand about re-criminalizing cannabis or restricting its use to medical purposes only, rather than for recreational use — industry insiders say that making such a distinction is nearly impossible.

Nevertheless, after the wild past few months, it seems unlikely to put the genie back in the bottle. No one can accurately predict where Thailand’s unbridled cannabis industry is heading.

Thailand needs better regulations to support the cannabis industry. In this seemingly free-for-all situation in Thailand, there are some rules, but they are only occasionally enforced, or sometimes not at all.

Not all cannabis dispensaries have the licenses required by regulations, and they should be keeping records of the source of all cannabis, as well as the personal information of every customer.

According to current Thai law, no product other than unprocessed cannabis plants should contain more than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — that’s the chemical in cannabis that has a psychological effect, and these products are not supposed to be sold online.

However, you can find suppliers online offering cannabis cakes and gummies with high THC content that can be delivered to your doorstep in less than an hour.

Thai law also stipulates that cannabis should not be sold to anyone under 20 years old, but when the product is delivered straight to your door by a motorbike rider, who’s to know?

Some restaurants offer dishes with cannabis, where you can order cannabis tea and cannabis ice cream. Convenience stores even sell water with a cannabis flavor. The Thai police admit that they are unsure what is legal and what is not, so they rarely enforce the regulations when it comes to cannabis.

The cannabis bill was a bit of a political surprise. Anutin Charnvirakul, the leader of a major Thai political party, included the decriminalization of cannabis as part of his political platform in the 2019 election campaign. It turned out to be a key move for winning votes.

As the Health Minister in the new government, Anutin made it his top priority to remove cannabis from the list of prohibited drugs, fulfilling his campaign promise.

However, the Thai Parliament, with its myriad interest groups, has been slow to act, and the decriminalization of cannabis was already a done deal before anyone could write regulations to control this new industry. The planned new laws have stalled amid political infighting.

Some have described the legalization of cannabis in Thailand as opening Pandora’s box because the health risks associated with cannabis have been underestimated.

Medical Cannabis

In March of this year, the United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board said that the legalization of non-medical cannabis use in a few countries had led to “negative health effects and mental disorders” for some recreational cannabis users, and also violated the United Nations’ 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

It’s easy to open the box, but difficult to close it. Cannabis dependence is now not just psychological, but also concerns the livelihoods of millions.

According to reports from Bangkok, Thailand, the country is poised to implement a key policy change in its healthcare system, allowing for the distribution of medicinal cannabis oil to children with epilepsy on a “real-use” basis.

This adjustment by the Thai National Health Security Office (NHSO) signifies a significant shift in the country’s medical cannabis measures, emphasizing the needs of patients and the effectiveness of treatment over strict prescription limitations.

Previously, NHSO policy only allowed for a maximum of 6 bottles of 10 milliliters of medicinal cannabis oil to be dispensed per patient per month. However, there are now plans to reconsider and possibly increase this limit to better accommodate the actual needs of patients, reflecting a more flexible and compassionate approach to healthcare.

This shift occurred after extensive research and trials led by Dr. APHASIRI LUSAWAT, a pediatric neurologist at the Institute of Neurology, Department of Medical Services, between 2021 and 2023.

These studies focused on the use of cannabis extracts with high CBD content to treat intractable epilepsy in children and yielded positive results, ultimately leading to the revision of this policy.

As a result, Thailand has taken a significant step forward in the field of medical cannabis, not only reflecting its rigorous approach to evidence-based medicine but also setting a positive example for the world.

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