Thailand on Thursday became the first country in Asia to decriminalise cannabis. However, tough penalties will still apply to those who use the drug to get high, said Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.
In an interview, Anutin Charnvirakul said the move to decriminalise legal production of cannabis is taken to boost the economy. He also cautioned that recreational use of the drug still remains illegal.
"We still have regulations under the law that control the consumption, smoking or use of cannabis products in non-productive ways," said Anutin Charnvirakul.
Under decriminalisation, growing and trading marijuana and hemp products or use parts of the plant to treat illnesses is not a crime.
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Cafes and restaurants can also serve cannabis-infused food and drinks, but the products should only contain less than 0.2 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant's main psychoactive compound.
Harsh penalties, up to three months imprisonment and an $800 fine for smoking cannabis in public, will remain in place under the Public Health Act.
"We have always emphasised using cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical purposes and for health," Anutin told CNN. "There has never once been a moment that we would think about advocating people to use cannabis in terms of recreation -- or use it in a way that it could irritate others."
In particular, the minister had a stern warning for foreign tourists thinking of lighting up a joint in public.
"Thailand will promote cannabis policies for medical purposes. If tourists come for medical treatment or come for health-related products then it's not an issue but if they think that they can come to Thailand just because cannabis or marijuana is legal and come to Thailand to smoke joints freely, that's wrong”, said the minister while adding that such tourists are not welcome to Thailand.
Anutin hopes the Thai cannabis industry will generate billions of dollars in income by boosting agriculture.
"We expect the value of the industry to easily exceed $2 billion dollars," he said, highlighting recent incentives such as collaborating with the Agriculture Ministry to distribute 1 million free cannabis plants to households across the country.
“Thailand is one of the best places to grow cannabis plants,” Anutin said. He added that Thai people are excited and eager to be players as investors or product makers as well as consumers. “With today's technology and marketing strategies, Thailand will be second to none in being able to promote cannabis products in the global market,” said the minister.
Thursday was a historic day in the relaxation of Thailand's cannabis laws, and follows the country's landmark decision in 2018 to allow the medical use of marijuana.
Since then the laws around cannabis have been further loosened, with the removal of cannabis buds and flowers from the country's list of banned narcotics.
An event organised by Highland Legalization, a Thai marijuana advocacy group, will see two days of musical performances, panel discussions and cannabis food sales.
On one hand where huge festivities are planned this weekend, activists have complained that loopholes in the law send conflicting messages.
Just weeks ago, a 56-year-old woman was arrested at her home in eastern Chonburi province after plainclothes police officers spotted a potted cannabis plant in her bedroom.
Her husband later clarified that she had high blood pressure and diabetes and they had been cultivating the plant to add to their food.
Commenting on the case, Anutin said the four officers were given warnings and suspended as they did not obey the law that was just established. He further added that people and the law enforcers needed to be educated about how they can use cannabis within the legal framework.
Kitty Chopaka, a Bangkok-based cannabis entrepreneur who has pushed for legalisation for years, welcomed the relaxation and said that the main purpose of advocating for cannabis legalisation was to promote safe and responsible use.
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