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Not long ago, Thailand had a notorious reputation for its aggressive anti-cannabis stance. Tourists and Thais alike had horror stories of getting caught by the authorities with a joint in their pocket. But now, cannabis in Thailand has abruptly pivoted with a new legal mandate.
This dramatic about-face by the Thai government means cannabis has been effectively decriminalized for personal use and consumption. Medical cannabis has been legal for several years, but with these latest announcements, the country is actively pursuing all avenues of legal cannabis: research, education, tourism, and agriculture.
Cannabis in Thailand Is Better for Business
You only have to look at other countries with legal cannabis to see how much economic benefit it brings. According to the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), “the 11 states that allowed legal sales [of recreational cannabis] within their borders raised nearly $3 billion in cannabis excise tax revenue, an increase of 33 percent compared to a year earlier.”
It goes without saying that with the country’s new open stance on cannabis, there will be associated massive potential economic benefits thanks to taxation, agricultural exports, and tourism.
After all, much of Thailand’s climate is ideally suited for outdoor cannabis cultivation. Moreover, with its highly developed export supply chain, it could quickly transition into one of the world’s largest exporters of cannabis and cannabis-related products.
Fortune Magazine reported that Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said that he expects the “industry to easily exceed $2 billion,” likely thanks to the developed nature of Thailand’s export economy, its highly educated workforce, and an ideal climate.
A New Destination for Cannabis Education
When Thailand legalized medical cannabis in 2018, Rangsit University in Bangkok quickly added cannabis into the Agricultural Innovation curriculum. Since then, students have focused on cannabis history, farming technology, cultivation, and most importantly, the development of cannabis as medicine.
Other Thai universities have added cannabis options, including the Suranaree University of Technology in Nakhon Ratchasima, Maejo University in Chiang Mai, Rajamangala University of Technology Isan (RMUTI) Khon Kaen Campus, and the Waldo Institute of Phetchaburi, which has been accredited by the Office of the Higher Education Commission of Thailand.
Thailand has quickly become a destination for cannabis expertise, thanks in no small part to this growing number of universities supporting a cannabis-based curriculum. The government is ensuring that the country is a leader in cannabis cultivation and research, not just among Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries but within Asia as a whole.
Significant Benefits to the People
Legalization means Thais can legally consume, cultivate, and sell cannabis without fear of criminal penalties. But, the economic opportunities presented by this burgeoning global market are substantial.
Thailand has more than 7 million agricultural households, which means a significant portion of its country relies directly on crop production for sustenance, business, and stability. The hope is that cannabis, a cash crop, will offer Thai farmers a new lucrative option already well suited to the local environment. As the global market really starts to take off, Thailand should already be well established as an exporter.
Beyond the benefits to local farmers, there is also the potential for a boom in 420 tourism. As the only country in Southeast Asia with legal cannabis on the books, Thailand’s popularity among young backpackers and digital nomads will only grow.
According to Thailand’s Deputy National Police Chief Pol Gen Roy Inkhapairote, possessing cannabis (even for commercial purposes) is legal so long as it’s under 0.2 percent THC and doesn’t cause a public disturbance. This means there is a significant opportunity for tour operators, restaurants, and retailers to jump on the bandwagon with 420-themed products and services.
The government is also serious about helping those impacted by perhaps overly aggressive drug policies of the past. When it signed the new cannabis legislation on June 9th, the country also released more than 3,000 inmates serving jail time for cannabis- or hemp-related offenses. Any court cases currently going through the system have also been dropped. It’s a deeply meaningful action by the Thai government.
Thailand: A Lesson on Legal Cannabis
Thailand’s recent experience legalizing cannabis is in stark contrast to the tightly controlled markets in Canada, Europe, and the US. While these Western countries are wrapped up in the minutiae of regulation and compliance, Thailand has chosen a route less marred by bureaucratic delays and complexities.
Thailand opened up home cultivation and possession with essentially no paperwork requirements or application process. In fact, the government plans on giving away a million cannabis plants in celebration of this policy decision. Can anyone imagine the Canadian government or even Colorado doing something similar?
Thailand is a lesson on how easy legalization can be when politics and elaborate regulatory structures are removed from the equation.