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Editor’s note: This article was originally published on January 25 and has been updated to reflect the Minister of Health’s signed approval to remove cannabis from a list of controlled drugs.
Thailand took a giant step on January 25 to become the first country in Asia to decriminalize cannabis, potentially opening the door to home cultivation and adult use.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul announced that Thailand’s Narcotics Control Board has approved the removal of cannabis from the ministry’s list of controlled drugs, putting in place the de facto decriminalization of cannabis in the country, The Associated Press reported.
Charnvirakul officially signed off on the Ministry’s Food and Drug Administration withdrawal of cannabis on February 8. Now the signed measure must be published in the newspaper. Official Thai Government Gazette—the official public gazette of Thailand—for 120 days before taking effect, according to the PA.
Removing cannabis from the country’s controlled drug list means that all parts of the plant are allowed to be used. However, extracted content above 0.2% THC will remain illegal.
Charnvirakul said he hopes his signed endorsement will not only pave the way for the use of medical cannabis through an industry built around derivatives, but help eliminate the stigma surrounding cannabis, the PA reported.
“Cannabis actually has many medical benefits, not different from other herbs, and we are doing our best to make sure that the people of Thailand benefit from it both medically and economically,” he said on February 8. .
The decriminalization effort comes on the heels of the Thai government changing its drug laws last year to reduce the number of people in prison.
Southeast Asia has some of the toughest penalties in the world for drug use and possession, and Thailand has the largest prison population among the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. East (ASEAN), with more than 80% of people imprisoned for drugs. according to the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC).
Nonetheless, it remains unclear whether those who possess cannabis in Thailand would still be susceptible to arrest under the current decriminalization push. Cannabis for adult use remains illegal, and over the next 120 days the ministry will seek approval of a Cannabis Bill through the Thai parliament to clarify several legal points, the PA reported.
In the United States, decriminalization generally means that small amounts of personal cannabis use are a civil or local offense, not a state crime, or a misdemeanor without the possibility of imprisonment, according to the National Conference of State. Legislatures, a nonpartisan association of public officials that promotes interstate cooperation and facilitates the exchange of information between state legislatures.
In Thailand, “a tangle of related laws means that the production and possession of marijuana remains regulated for the time being, leaving the legal status of recreational marijuana use in a [gray] region”, the PA reported.
Thailand’s parliament voted to legalize cannabis for medical purposes in late 2018, then became the first Asian country to decriminalize the production and use of medical cannabis in 2020. Included in this reform, most parts of the cannabis plant have been removed from the country category. V list of controlled drugs, except flower and seeds (differentiating this effort from current effort).
Personal use of Category V substances (e.g. heroin, opium, methamphetamine, cocaine) is punishable by imprisonment not exceeding one year, while possession of “small amounts” for personal use of Category V substances is punishable by imprisonment for not more than two years, under Thailand’s drug law reform of 2021, according to the IDPC.
The 2022 decriminalization signed by Charnvirakul removes all parts of the cannabis plant (flower and seeds included) from the Category V list of controlled drugs.
Charnvirakul, who is also Thailand’s deputy prime minister, campaigned to legalize cannabis production to help farmers during his 2019 election campaign, and has been a driving force behind the decriminalization of cannabis ever since, according to the PA.
The Bhumjai Thai Party, led by Charnvirakul, is expected to lead legislation to clarify the legal status of cannabis.