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Thailand Smiles on Cannabis: To Distribute One Million Free Plants

Government announces surprise giveaway to foster cannabis as a “household crop.”




Women in Chiang Mai, Thailand are seen celebrating Loy Krathong, an annual lantern festival held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. PHOTO COURTESY VYACHESLAY ARGENBERG/WIKIMEDIA

Thailand likes to do things in a big way. June 9th will mark the legalization of cannabis for consumption and home cultivation in the Kingdom.  So Thai  citizens can reap the benefits of this sweeping change, the Thai government is handing out one million free plants to households across the nation of 70 million.

Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul announced the giveaway on May 8, expressing his vision for cannabis to be grown like “household crops.” There should soon be well-nurtured cannabis breaking ground, as a third of Thailand’s labor force is involved in agriculture.

The move is a step toward Thailand’s plan for cannabis as a cash crop and a bandage to its COVID-19-battered tourist economy. Thais will be able to grow “as many cannabis plants” as they like in their own homes, according to Charnvirakul. But they must be government-registered patients with a prescription for cannabis. Plants will have to be medical grade capped for THC content and used exclusively for treatment purposes. None can be grown for commercial purposes.

“It will still be considered criminal if you don’t have a legal prescription, and you have to be a patient of some form of ailment,” said Charnvirakul. “Only then will you be able to grow cannabis at home and use it however you like.”

Cannabis was introduced to Thailand from India (which is still mulling legalizing cannabis) and both countries share the word “ganja” for cannabis. A wild cannabis field is seen here in Parvati, India in 2015. PHOTO COURTESY NARENDER SHARMA/WIKIMEDIA

Making a hard drug humble
The surprising giveaway is a big turnaround for the status of cannabis in Thailand. It’s also a landmark move among notoriously cannabis-repressive countries in Southeast Asia. Thailand has been a leader in legalization in the region. In 2018, Thailand was the first to legalize cannabis for medical research and use.


Thailand originally criminalized cannabis in 1935 and labeled it a narcotic in 1979. It’s illegality never seemed to hamper Thailand’s long association with recreational cannabis, notably during the Vietnam War. According to sources, U.S. troops began smoking the local “ganja” soon after their arrival in 1963. Arrests for marijuana possession soon peaked at up to 1,000 a week. That didn’t keep the term “Thai stick” from becoming a buzzword on the streets of Haight Ashbury and around the world.

Open to the masses
Charnvirakul also announced that small businesses can begin selling cannabis products — including CBD, currently legal in Thailand — with less than 0.2 per cent THC. To foster what Charnvirakul sees as a 10 billon Thai baht (US$289 million) a year market, there will be no concessions required from the government. Small sellers of marijuana-related products won’t have to register with the Kingdom’s Food and Drug Administration. However, large businesses will still require permits.

“This will enable people and the government to generate more than 10 billion baht in revenue from marijuana and hemp,” he said. “Meanwhile, people can showcase their cannabis and hemp-related products and wisdom and sell their products nationwide.”

Marijuana was a traditional medicine for centuries in Thailand before it was banned. Laborers were reportedly known to use it as a muscle relaxer and it was used to ease women’s labor pains. And Thailand’s famed muay Thai boxers once wrapped their knuckles in hemp fiber, instead of boxing gloves.

Brad Cheng is the digital editor of Global Cannabis Times, produced by SmartWork Media. Brad's journalism career spans working as an editor for PR Newswire, The Nation and The Santa Barbara News Press, and as Managing Editor of The Katy Courier, and publisher of Now This in Princeton. His career as a screenwriter took him into entertainment advertising, writing major film campaigns for studios and for HBO.



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