Thailand is giving away a million cannabis plants for home cultivation
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Thailand likes to do things in a big way. And next June 9 is the day that the legalisation of medical cannabis in the Kingdom comes into effect. To celebrate, Thailand's Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul of the Bhumjai Thai Party, a major partner in the coalition that spearheaded the country's campaign to decriminalise marijuana, recently announced that the government will distribute 1 million free cannabis plants so that “anyone can grow them at home”, once most of the legal restrictions on the production and possession of cannabis are lifted.
The strictly regulated use of medical cannabis was legalised in 2018, making Thailand the first country in Southeast Asia to do so, and various restrictions have been gradually eased since then. In fact, in February of this year, Charnvirakul signed an act officially removing cannabis from its list of controlled drugs. And now the minister has added that people will be able to grow “as many cannabis plants as they want” in their homes. However, it can only be therapeutic grade cannabis and must be used exclusively for medicinal purposes.
The "green" rush for medicinal cannabis in Thailand
In Thailand, it is currently legal for registered businesses to sell cannabis products with less than 0.2% THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. Last year, Thai beverage and cosmetics companies were scrambling to launch hemp (and CBD) infused products after hemp-derived ingredients were approved for use in cannabis edibles and cosmetics.
But with this legalisation of medicinal home cultivation, Thai officials are hoping that a new and important cannabis industry will flourish, not only generating hundreds of millions of euros directly each year, but also attracting foreign tourists, who have recently begun to return to the country in large numbers after the slump caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the measure comes into effect on June 9, the possession and use of all parts of cannabis plants, including flowers and seeds, will be allowed. However, the extracted content will still be illegal if it contains more than 0.2% THC. Anutin Charnvirakul stated that people will no longer need to obtain a permit to grow cannabis at home, as long as it is declared to be for medicinal purposes and does not have a THC content that exceeds the legal maximum.
Large-scale cultivation operations will still need permission from the country's Food and Drug Administration to manufacture cannabis products, which are forecast to be used primarily for medicines and food additives. Products planned for production include hemp seed oil, dietary supplements, beverages, condiment sauces, jelly candies or instant foods.
The government agency received around 4,700 applications at the end of April for licenses to import, possess, cultivate and produce cannabis and hemp. He added that entrepreneurs and companies will be able to compete freely in Thailand's cannabis market as there will be no concessions. In fact, small sellers of cannabis-related products will not need to register. Only large cannabis-related businesses need to apply for permission to operate.
"This will allow people and the government to generate more than 10 billion baht a year (about 300 million euros) in income from marijuana and hemp," the minister said. "Meanwhile, Thais can showcase their cannabis-related products and wisdom and sell their products throughout the country."
A bandage to heal the wounds of COVID-19
Cannabis was considered a traditional medicine for centuries in Thailand before it was banned. Workers were reportedly known to use it as a muscle relaxant and also to ease women's labour pains. And Thailand's famous Muay Thai boxers once wrapped their knuckles in hemp fibre, instead of wearing boxing gloves. Thailand originally criminalised marijuana in 1935 and classified it as a narcotic in 1979, but its illegality never seemed to hamper Thailand's long association with recreational cannabis, particularly when it came to offering it to foreigners visiting the country, in the form of cannabis products. ranging from dried flowers to the famous 'Thai sticks'.
Now, local cannabis advocates have expressed hope that relaxing prohibition laws could boost economic recovery after the COVID-19 crisis. The intention to redefine cannabis as a "homegrown crop" is the latest move in Thailand's plan to transform cannabis into a commercial crop that can benefit farmworkers, as about a third of the country's workforce is employed in agriculture.