After decades of draconian laws and brutal punishments, a bill allowing the limited consumption of medical cannabis in Thailand has been approved by its cabinet. While this won’t help patients right away, it does open the door to medical research into its therapeutic efficacy. Here at Medicine Man Technologies, we’re excited to see progress of any kind in a country notorious for a lack of tolerance.
The bill will now be in the hands of Thailand’s Parliament, also called the National Legislative Assembly, for further consideration and hopefully, approval.
A Brief History of Cannabis in Thailand
Cannabis was once very common in Thailand and used in many ways, from being the main ingredient in a traditional soup to providing medicinal relief for ailments such as migraines, cholera, malaria, digestion issues, dysentery, asthma, parasites and pain after giving birth. Topical treatments and oils for massage were also customary throughout the country. Even hemp was widely used for clothing.
When the United States got involved in the Vietnam War during the 1960s, the local market really took off. American soldiers encountered “Thai Sticks”, a native form of cannabis (dipped in opium), which they began mailing and packing to bring back home. It didn’t take very long for patients and enthusiasts around the world to seek out these sticks, making cannabis one of the prime exports out of Thailand.
In 1971, President Nixon officially declared a “war on drugs” and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was established in 1973. They went after Colombian drug lords trafficking cocaine and eventually turned their attention to Thailand.
Likely feeling the pressure, Thailand passed a Narcotics Act in 1979 which severely punished anyone who produced, exported or imported cannabis. Punishment was harsh, up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of 1.5 million Thai baht ($40,000 USD). Visitors who were caught for possession even faced the death penalty – though it was primarily a threat tactic used by the police for bribery.
By the 1980s, Thailand had become one of America’s biggest allies in the war on drugs. However, zero tolerance policies led to massive busts and incarceration rates. It also gave rise to the rampant use of methamphetamine. Because meth labs are portable and producers are able to manufacture the drug in relative secrecy, it became the drug of choice while the government and law enforcement officials were focused on destroying a once thriving cannabis market.
It wasn’t until 2016 that Thailand’s Justice Minister, Paiboon Koomchaya, finally acknowledged that the so-called war on drugs had been lost, and it was time for both citizens and the government to approach the country’s drug epidemic as a public health matter requiring new, more sensible policies.
Medical Cannabis in Thailand Faces Long Road
If the bill is approved by Thailand’s Senate and House, the country’s existing Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) will begin to approve and set up legal operations to support medical research efforts.
At this point, researchers from the country’s Rangsit and Mahidol universities have already presented the ONCB with plans to research the medicinal properties of cannabis in treating cancer and providing pain management for various conditions. In addition, Rangsit has developed an oral cannabis spray that alleviates pain in cancer and multiple sclerosis patients. They’re pushing for patient use to be legalized so that the spray can be brought to market.
Another venture, to be carried out by the Thai Cannabis Corporation, includes cultivating 5,000 hectares (over 12,000 acres) of medical cannabis in Thailand over the next five years. It will be overseen by The Royal Project Foundation and all research will be conducted by Maejo University. The project will focus on sustainable and low-cost ways to grow and produce cannabis oils and extracts. Compliance with Thai law will require growing strains with high cannabidiol (CBD) and minimal tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to reduce psychoactive effects.
As for people wanting to grow medical cannabis in Thailand for patient use, the ONCB’s secretary general Sirinya Sitdhichai tempered expectations saying, “Three years from now, we may consider granting people such permission.” As for recreational, he was far more straightforward, “While we will allow the growing of marijuana and its use for medical purposes, we will control such activities. We will not allow marijuana use for entertainment purposes.”
Though progress may appear glacially slow, it’s still a drastic change for a country infamous for ruthlessly punishing anyone caught with illegal substances. Medicine Man Technologies will be watching closely as the bill progresses and research begins. We hope to see a new era of cannabis acceptance in Thailand.
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