Thailand Becomes First Asian Country to Legalize Marijuana

BANGKOK — Marijuana cultivation and possession in Thailand was decriminalized Thursday, like a dream come true for an aging generation of pot smokers who recall the kick the legendary Thai Stick variety delivered.

The stated intention of the country’s public health minister to distribute 1 million marijuana seedlings for cultivation has added to the impression that Thailand is turning into a weed wonderland.

However, for now would-be cannabis tourists will be disappointed. Thailand has become the first nation in Asia to decriminalize marijuana — also known as cannabis, or ganja in the local lingo — but it is not following the examples of Uruguay and Canada, the only two countries so far that have legalized recreational marijuana on a national basis.

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Although the government claims it promotes cannabis only for medical purposes, they warn those who want to smoke for pleasure that public smoking could be considered a nuisance and subject to a possible 3-month sentence as well as a 25,000 Thai baht ($780 fine). And extracted content remains illegal if it contains more than 0.2% of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical that makes people high.

That’s roughly the same amount that might be found in hemp, a cannabis variety mostly grown for fibers that are used for industrial purposes.

Pro-marijuana protest in Bangkok on April 20-22, 2022 calling for the legalization in Thailand of recreational marijuana.

Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images

Thailand wants to be a major player in medical marijuana markets. The benefits of the cannabis are usually derived from the other cannabinol compounds it contains. Thailand has an established medical tourism sector and the climate makes it a great place to grow cannabis.

“We should know how to use cannabis,” Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, the country’s biggest marijuana booster, said recently. “If we have the right awareness, cannabis is like gold, something valuable, and should be promoted.”

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But he added, “We will have additional Ministry of Health Notifications, by the Department of Health. If it causes nuisances, we can use that law (to stop people from smoking).”

He said the government prefers to “build an awareness” that would be better than patrolling to check on people and using the law to punish them.

“Everything should be on the middle path,” Anutin said during a news conference ahead of the decriminalization Thursday.

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