Cannabis legalisation in Thailand: pipe dream or imminent?

Eric Van Buskirk looks at whether full cannabis legalisation is on the cards in Thailand.

By | Thu 30 Jan 2020

With the result of Thailand’s general elections in July last year, the so-called “Land of Smiles” looks poised to lead the campaign for cannabis legalisation in Southeast Asia. The Bhumjaithai party, which advocates the full legalisation of cannabis over the next decade, is now the fourth-largest political party in Thailand and a member of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s coalition government.

The Appeal of Economic Opportunity & Equality
Bhumjaithai leader Supachai Jaisamuth has long maintained that cannabis is a particularly appealing prospect to be embraced as a cash crop. According to party estimates, legalisation would provide poor farmers a way to easily earn 400,000 baht (approximately $13,000) annually, as well as create tens of thousands of jobs. This point — along with several key victories for cannabis advocacy in the West — has not been lost on the Thai people, and created a groundswell of support which propelled the party to its current status as a political force.

So how far along is Thailand today, in its slow push toward full cannabis legalisation? In this post, we briefly explore the progress made by the current coalition government on medical cannabis, as well as the possibility of full legalisation in the near future.

Medical Cannabis Legalisation in Thailand & What It Means for Southeast Asia

Even before the general election last year, Prayuth Chan-ocha’s junta government became the first in Southeast Asia to legalise cannabis for medicine and medical research. In February last year, Thailand’s king approved a revision to strict 1979 anti-cannabis laws allowing eligibility for cannabis prescriptions to patients with specific medical conditions. The revision included a 90-day amnesty period for individuals in possession of cannabis at the time, provided they could prove they met the qualifying criteria delineated in the legal revision.

Today industrial-scale medical cannabis facilities are opening all around the country. The largest single facility is located in Chiang Mai with over 12,000 plants cultivated and hundreds of Thais employed on site. Chiang Mai’s Maejo University has even developed its own cannabis strain, offering equal percentages of the highly sought after compounds tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Rice farmers in Thailand’s northeastern provinces have also been tapped by the junta government to cultivate cannabis for hospitals in the region.

The Bhumjaithai advocacy campaign isn’t stopping at medical cannabis legalisation, however. Key lawmakers within Thailand’s National Assembly are seeing substantial success emulating proposed legislation surrounding cannabis oil in the USA, where it is commonly used as a health supplement. Given the party’s rising public support, Thailand is poised to be a pioneer of medical cannabis legalisation in Southeast Asia.

Recreational Cannabis Legalisation in The Future? It’s Possible

It’s worth noting that public possession has not yet been decriminalised except for individuals with medical prescriptions. However that could very well change, and on course with Bhumjaithai’s ten year schedule. Later this year, a law is slated to go into effect that will allow Thais to grow “up to six cannabis plants in their backyards like any other herb”.

While recreational cannabis remains illegal with stiff penalties including imprisonment, enthusiasts and advocates alike are betting that Thailand’s ongoing cannabis boom — along with Bhumjaithai’s continued membership in the junta government — may loosen these laws in the long run.