If you can’t beat them, join ’em. Although drugs, in general, are highly taboo in Asian culture (in some places like China, Indonesia, or Vietnam even a single joint can get you serious jail time) things are pretty lax in Thailand. In fact, Thailand is now the only country in Asia to partially decriminalize cannabis, after a series of narcotics law reforms between February 2019 and January 2022 effectively legalized the growing, sale, and consumption of cannabis.
There’s a caveat though: these rules only apply to cannabis products that shouldn’t cause a high. Cannabis products with more than 0.2% THC, the active psychoactive compound in the plant, are still considered illegal — unless you have a medical card for it.
Like in the US, marijuana was first legalized as medicine, Thailand is now giving its people the green light to grow their own medical-grade cannabis, as long as they use it exclusively for medicinal purposes. In fact, they’re encouraging it.
On May 8, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul announced that, under certain conditions, Thais will be able to grow cannabis plants in their own homes legally, not all that different from “household crops” — his words, not mine.
To mark the occasion, the country’s health ministry will distribute over one million free cannabis plants to households who apply to receive one. Citizens will start receiving their first plants once the cannabis is officially dropped from the list of controlled substances on June 9. From this date onward, possessing and using any part of the cannabis plant, including the buds and seeds, will be allowed. People will be able to grow as many plants as they want.
Extracted content over 0.2% THC will remain illegal, although it is not clear how the government will enforce this rule or whether it actually is serious about any enforcement.
There’s a purpose to all of this. Thailand is betting big on cannabis as its new cash crop, hoping to become an important player in this burgeoning industry. The drastic changes in the country’s drug laws have already had a big effect, leading to a boom in CBD-infused foods and drinks outlets that can be found all over Bangkok and other tourist hotspots across Thailand. Strolling through the capital, for instance, tourists can try weed-infused sushi at Japanese restaurants or vegan CBD brownies at the small shops that cater to westerners.
It’s all part of a major plan to lure back tourists after a disastrous 2020 and 2021, which saw the flow of tourists and their capital squeezed by the pandemic. About a third of Thailand’s labor force is employed in agriculture, so shifting to a high-value crop like cannabis will likely be welcomed with open arms.
Large-scale enterprises will still require a permit from the local Food and Drug Administration, which has so far received over 4,700 applications for licenses to import, possess, grow, and produce cannabis and hemp products. These include hemp seed oil, dietary supplements, beverages, seasoning sauce, jelly candy, and instant food.