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Thailand leads Southeast Asia as it Passes Legislation to Make Medical Marijuana Legal

A marijuana leaf on a doctor's prescription.

We have come a long way from when the legalization of medical marijuana was a preserve of the West. On Tuesday, Thailand led the way for countries outside the Western hemisphere when it passed legislation to make medical cannabis legal. It is the first Southeast Asia country to do so and it is expected that more countries in the region will follow suit in the coming months or years. What is more encouraging for medical marijuana users in Thailand and the region is that the legislation was unanimously passed by the Thai parliament. The legislation was submitted with amendments from the Health Ministry, which had been working on the bill since November.

The new legislation passed by the Thai National Assembly now makes it legal for anyone to obtain a license to not only possess but also import, export, and produce cannabis for medical purposes. This is a great boon for the medical marijuana industry in Thailand. The legalization will result in a better business climate for not only producing but also bringing in high-quality medical marijuana for those that need it. Unlike previously where patients had to go to underground providers who sold unlicensed products, they now get access to much better quality from legal practitioners and providers. Similar to the situation in the United States, patients with qualifying conditions can get their medical prescriptions from state-licensed doctors, and then get their marijuana from licensed vendors.

This is quite the development especially for a country like Thailand, which is known for having some of the most punitive drug laws. In fact, Marijuana has been illegal in Thailand since 1930, and the legalization of medical cannabis is an indication that the country may just be loosening its most stringent drug regulations. Nonetheless, even though this is an important first step, recreational use of cannabis is still illegal and could land you in prison. As it currently stands, possession of 22 pounds or more of ancha” as cannabis is referred to in Thailand, could get you a prison sentence of up to five years together with a huge fine if you cannot prove that you have a medical prescription.

Some legislators have praised the passing of the new laws as an important first step that should hopefully lead to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Thailand.

Just like with the United States and Canada, there has been a lot of public support for medical marijuana in Thailand. With a lot of foreign companies jostling to get a foothold in Thailand, it was critical for the county to pass the legislation so as to ensure that Thai companies could compete. A lot of foreign companies currently have patent applications lodged with Thailand and this undoubtedly helped move along the legislation. The government no doubt recognized that Thai researchers would find it difficult to study marijuana without passing appropriate laws. It would also be very difficult for patients to receive cannabis therapies without proper legislation that would allow Thai companies to produce the plant. Medical Marijuana will now receive a new lease of life as the new laws regulate and even blocks most foreign patent applications. This makes it possible for Thai companies to research and study cannabis, and come up with all manner of drugs and therapies for Thai patients.

Many countries in South East Asia such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore have yet to make cannabis in any form legal. In many of these countries, possession of the smallest amounts of cannabis could get one long prison sentences. Trafficking of large amounts of cannabis could in some countries even result in the death penalty. As such, many patients of medical cannabis in these countries cannot access marijuana therapies in their own countries. This presents a great opportunity for medical marijuana producers in Thailand, who can sell to patients from these countries when they visit the country as medical tourists.

A marijuana leaf on a doctor's prescription._SCALED

The benefits of legalization in Thailand do not end in medical tourism, as it also extends to influence over her neighbors’ legislation. In fact, Malaysia has been reported to be considering following in the footsteps of Thailand and making medical cannabis legal. It is only a matter of time before most of the other East Asian countries follow suit.

Mac Jackman