Bangkok, Thailand: Thailand on Thursday became the first country in Asia to smuggle marijuana – but tougher penalties would still apply to those who use the drug to rise, according to the minister leading the change.
Speaking in an interview before taking action, Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said he expected legal production of marijuana would boost the economy but warned that the use of the drug for recreational purposes remained illegal.
“It is not,” said Anutin, who is also the deputy prime minister. “We still have regulations under the law that regulate the use, smoking or use of marijuana products in non-productive ways.”
Under crime eradication, it is no longer a crime to grow and trade marijuana and hemp products, or to use plant parts to treat diseases. Restaurants and restaurants can offer canned food and beverages – but only if the products contain less than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s main psychoactive compound.
Serious penalties still apply under the Public Health Act, which includes a three-month jail term and a $ 800 fine for smoking marijuana in public.
“We have been emphasizing the use of cannabis and immature substances for medical and health purposes,” Anutin said. “There has never been a time when we can think of encouraging people to use cannabis for fun – or to use it in a way that offends others.”
In particular, the minister has issued a stern warning to foreign tourists who are considering lighting a joint in the community.
“Thailand will develop cannabis policies for medical purposes. If [tourists] come for treatment or come with health-related products that is not a problem but if you think you want to come to Thailand because you have heard that marijuana or marijuana is legal … [or] come to Thailand you will smoke members freely, that is wrong.
“Do not come. We will not welcome you as soon as you arrive in this country.”
Anutin, a former wealthy man, said he hoped the Thai marijuana industry would generate billions of dollars in agricultural development.
“We expect the value of the [marijuana] industry to easily exceed $ 2 billion,” he said, highlighting recent incentives such as working with the Department of Agriculture to distribute one million free marijuana plants to homes across the country.
“Thailand, according to what I have been told, is one of the best places to grow cannabis plants,” Anutin said.
“I think the Thai people are happy and aspiring to be players – whether they are investors or manufacturers and consumers. With modern technology and marketing strategies, Thailand will be second only to the market for [marijuana] products.”
Thursday is a historic day for Thailand’s marijuana laws to be relaxed, and it follows the nation’s 2018 landmark decision to legalize medical marijuana use.
Since then, under Anutin’s direction, laws regarding cannabis have been relaxed, with the removal of marijuana plants and flowers from the country’s official list of banned drugs.
More than 3,000 prisoners serving sentences for marijuana and hemp-related drug offenses will be released on Thursday following announcements by the Anutin Department of Public Health.
And big celebrations are planned this weekend. One event organized by Highland Legalization, a Thai group representing marijuana, will feature two days of music, panel discussions and marijuana food sales.
However, even with free law, the effects of paranoia may remain on some. Activists have long complained that loopholes in the law send conflicting messages.
A few weeks ago, a 56-year-old woman was arrested at her home in eastern Chonburi province after naked police officers spotted a marijuana plant in a pot in her room.
Her husband then explained that she had high blood pressure and diabetes and that they were cultivating the plant to supplement their diet.
Commenting on the case Anutin said the four officers involved were disciplined.
“They were given warnings and suspended. They did not respect the law we had just enacted,” Anutin said. “However, we need to [educate] the general public and law enforcement and let them know how far they can go with the use of marijuana content … within the legal framework. This is what we were trying to do, to provide as much information as possible to educate the public.”
Kitty Chopaka, a Bangkok-based cannabis-based businessman who has been seeking authorization for years, has welcomed the holiday.
“An important point to advocate for the legalization of marijuana is to promote safe and responsible use. [The fact is that] marijuana will now be legalized like garlic, there are no laws or regulations in place to regulate it,” Chopaka said.
However, noting the recent arrests, he encourages a precautionary measure.
“[Going forward], maybe it would be better to use marijuana in a secluded place away from people,” Chopaka said. “We do not want to see people [who are yet to pay] in prison.”