Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly unanimously legalized medical marijuana use, making it the first Southeast Asian country to allow cannabis use of any kind.
The legislation was passed by a 166-0 vote, with 13 abstentions. King Maha Vajiralongkorn is expected to give his final approval before the bill becomes a law. After that, citizens in Thailand can legally possess as well as produce, import and export marijuana for medical purposes provided they obtain required prescriptions and licenses.
Using marijuana recreationally will still be an illegal act punishable by severe fines and prison terms. Felons convicted of drug trafficking can even receive a death sentence.
A more lenient legal framework on drug use seems to be a trend in Asia. Malaysia recently abolished death penalty for drug-related crimes. The government, traditionally conservative on this issue, is even following Thailand’s footsteps and considering the legalization of medical marijuana use. Just a few months ago in August, a Malaysian man was sentenced to death by hanging for selling cannabis oil to patients. After the case invoked wide controversy, the Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, expressed in September that the death sentence should be further discussed before its implementation.
South Korea also passed new legislations to allow medical marijuana as well as other CBD products. However, their production, distribution and consumption would all be placed under strict scrutiny of governmental agencies.
Historically, cannabis was widely applied in Thai people’s daily life as a culinary material. A traditional Thai boat noodle soup, or kuaytiaw reua, for example, made use of marijuana as a spice. Even clothes contained fibers from marijuana and hemp plants.
“It is vital to remember that cannabis is one of the 50 Fundamental Herbs of Chinese Medicine and dates back 4000 years in Asia,” said Dr. Jenelle Kim, Founder of JBK Wellness Labs. “Beginning thousands of year ago, the healing properties of cannabis were used to help balance a variety of conditions – from calming the mind and body, balancing digestive disorders, easing pain and fatigue, among others.”
In 1934, however, the government carried out the Marijuana Act to ban its use in everyday life. But back then, related offenses only received mild punishments of at most one year in prison. More than 40 years later in 1979, another legislation called the Narcotics Act was passed. This time, marijuana use of all kinds became illegal. Those charged with the production, export or import of the plant could be fined as high as $40,000 and go to prison for two to fifteen years.
In recent years, nevertheless, the Thai government started to adopt a looser approach to marijuana regulation. Two years ago in 2016, Thailand’s Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya pushed the government to decriminalize cannabis use. It was a move unexpected by the rest of the world. Another drug he sought to legalize was a Thai plant named krathom, a drug that could induce similar reactions in users as opium.
Thai legislator Somchai Sawangkarn said the new law to legalize medical marijuana use “could be considered as a New Year gift to Thais.”
“The amendment [on the Narcotics Bill] was passed the second and third readings today. And will become effective once it is published on the Royal Gazette,” he said.
Featured image via Reuters