On December 26th, 2018, Thailand legalized the medical use of cannabis, in what one lawmaker called “A New Year's gift to the Thai people”. The law, passed by the National Legislative Assembly, which is appointed by the country’s military junta, will legalize the use of cannabis for medicine and research. The use of cannabis will be permitted in traditional Thai medicine to treat drug-resistant epilepsy, to alleviate symptoms of multiple sclerosis, to aid in cancer treatment, and for research purposes relating to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer's disease.

This move is a first in Southeast Asia, a region notorious for strict and conservative drug laws. In Malaysia, a man was sentenced to death for selling cannabis oil. Cannabis exporters face the death penalty in Indonesia and Singapore as well. In Thailand, the laws are less draconian, but still harsh: smoking a cigarette in the wrong place can be punished with up to a year in jail, and smuggling hard drugs can be met with the death sentence.

Thailand hasn’t always been hard on drugs. In fact, cannabis and Thai culture have historically been intimately intertwined.

ONGOING CHALLENGES

Thai legislators still face certain challenges on the road to medical legalization. Patent requests from foreign firms leave lawmakers wary, as these could allow foreign interests to dominate the market and make it challenging to get cannabis in the hands of medical patients and researchers. Another challenge is dealing with pest control in a way that doesn’t introduce contaminants into the medicine.

Thai lawmakers are confident these issues can be resolved. They are determined to keep the cannabis industry largely in Thai hands, and to ensure clean and safe products for patients. The government also likely has its eye on enhancing Thai tourism; Thailand is already a leading destination for medical tourism, and the legalization of medical marijuana will likely help this sector grow.

Thailand’s legalization of medicinal weed follows in the footsteps of similar moves by Israel, Britain, and Denmark. Advocates hope that Thailand will eventually follow in the footsteps of countries like Canada and Uruguay, and fully legalize cannabis for recreational use.

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