By TASSANEE VEJPONGSA and GRANT PECK – Associated Press
BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand legalized the cultivation and possession of marijuana starting Thursday, like a dream come true for an aging generation of pot smokers who remember the kick the legendary Thai Stick strain gave.
The declared intention of the country’s public health minister to distribute 1 million marijuana plants, starting Friday, has added to the impression that Thailand is turning into a weed paradise.
Some Thai advocates celebrated Thursday morning by buying marijuana at a cafe that previously limited itself to selling products made from the parts of the plant that don’t get people high. The dozen or so people who showed up at the Highland Cafe got to choose from a variety of buds with names like Sugarcane, Bubblegum, Purple Afghani and UFO.
“I can say it out loud, that I am a cannabis smoker. I don’t have to hide anymore like in the past when it was marked as an illegal drug,” said Rittipong Bachkul, 24, the first customer for the day.
So far, it seems there would be no effort to control what people can grow and smoke at home, other than registering to do so and declaring it to be for medical purposes.
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For now, however, potential marijuana tourists may want to proceed with caution.
The Thai government has said it is promoting cannabis for medical purposes only, warning those wishing to light up for pleasure that smoking in public could still be considered a nuisance, subject to a potential 3-month penalty. and a fine of 25,000 Thai baht ($780).
And the extracted content, like the oil, is still illegal if it contains more than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical that makes people high.
Marijuana’s status is still in considerable legal limbo because, although it is no longer treated as a dangerous drug, Thai lawmakers have yet to pass legislation to regulate its trade.
Thailand has become the first country in Asia to decriminalize marijuana – also known as cannabis or ganja in local lingo – but it is not following the examples of Uruguay and Canada, the only two countries to do so. day to have legalized recreational marijuana nationwide. base.
Thailand mainly wants to make a splash in the medical marijuana market. It already has a well-developed medical tourism industry and its tropical climate is ideal for growing cannabis.
“We should know how to consume cannabis,” Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, the country’s biggest cannabis booster, said recently. “If we have the right awareness, cannabis is like gold, something precious, and should be promoted.”
But he added: “We will have additional notifications from the Ministry of Health, by the Ministry of Health. If it causes nuisance, we can use this law (to prevent people from smoking). »
He said the government would rather “raise awareness” which would be better than patrolling to control people and using the law to punish them.
Some immediate beneficiaries of the change are people who have been locked up for breaking the old law.
“From our perspective, a major positive outcome of the legal changes is that at least 4,000 people imprisoned for cannabis-related offenses will be released,” said Gloria Lai, Asia Regional Director of International Drug Policy. Consortium, in an email interview.
“People facing cannabis-related charges will have them dropped, and money and cannabis seized from people charged with cannabis-related offenses will be returned to their owners.” His organization is a network of civil society organizations around the world that advocates drug policies “based on the principles of human rights, health and development”.
However, the economic benefits are at the heart of the marijuana reforms, which are expected to boost everything from national income to the livelihoods of small farmers.
One wonders whether the benefits will be distributed fairly.
One of the fears is that giant corporations could be unfairly served by proposed regulations involving complicated licensing processes and costly fees for commercial use that would handicap small producers.
“We saw what happened with the alcohol trade in Thailand. Only big producers are allowed to monopolize the market,” said Taopiphop Limjittrakorn, an MP from the opposition party Move Forward. that the same will not happen to the cannabis industry if the rules are in favor of big business,” his party wants laws to be drafted to address the issue.
Either way, smaller operators want to get into the marijuana business.
On a hot Sunday afternoon in Sri Racha district, eastern Thailand, Ittisug Hanjichan, owner of Goldenleaf Hemp, a cannabis farm, conducted his fifth training course for 40 entrepreneurs, farmers and retirees. They each paid around $150 to learn tips on seed coat trimming and plant care for quality yields.
One of the attendees was 18-year-old Chanadech Sonboon, who said his parents used to scold him for trying to secretly grow marijuana plants.
He said his father had changed his mind and now viewed marijuana as a medicine rather than something to be abused. The family runs a small homestay and cafe and hopes to one day provide cannabis to their guests.
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