Thailand Legalizes Medical Marijuana

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A Thai activist near the Government House in Bangkok during a campaign to legalize medical marijuana
Source: Laura Villadiego, “Will Thailand’s Legal Medical Marijuana Seed a New Black Market?,”, Jan. 1, 2019

On Dec. 25, 2018, Thailand became the first Southeast Asian country to legalize medical marijuana. The military-appointed National Legislative Assembly approved medical marijuana in a vote of 166-0, while 13 members did not vote. The law will legalize production, import, export, possession, and use of medical marijuana.

With the same legislation, kratom was legalized for medical use. Kratom is a tropic evergreen tree related to coffee with psychotropic effects used as a stimulant and painkiller. Only government-authorized patients will be able to have marijuana, and patients will be required to have a prescription or medical marijuana identification card. Sellers, producers, and researchers will need government licenses.

Somchai Sawangkarn, chairman of the parliamentary drafting committee for the law, stated, “If we let it be used recreationally, our society is not ready yet, so I want to do this first step first–the issue of making medicine. From allowing the making of medicine, maybe in six months or a year’s time, if society is ready, it could become a food supplement… And eventually that could lead us to its recreational use.”

Southeast Asia traditionally has very strict penalties for drug law violations, including the death penalty in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. In an apparent response to the pending Thai legalization, on Oct. 26, 2018, Singapore issued a warning that any citizen or permanent resident found to have used marijuana overseas will be punished as if they have used marijuana within the country with up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to about $14,800 US dollars. Thailand will maintain a prison penalty of up to five years and a fine of up to about $3,100 US dollars for recreational marijuana use.

Chokwan Kitty Chopaka, spokesperson for cannabis legalization advocacy group Highland Network, stated that due to a fall in rice, sugar, and rubber crop prices, “We’ve run out of cash crops… Thailand has always been a very agricultural country and we need a crop that we can make money [from].”

Thailand is expected to have a strong export business. Sophon Mekthon, Chair of the Government Pharmaceutical Organization, stated, “The slower we move, the more opportunities we lose out on. We might just look to serve Thai demands in the first stage, but there is the opportunity to start doing exports if we have supply left over.”

Tyler Anthony, Senior Vice President of Client Services at venture management company Electrum Partners, noted, “There will be a rush to produce as much cannabis as possible and there’s going to be a global shortage very soon. You need to hit a much broader scale of production and reduce costs–Thailand will allow that to happen.”

Medical marijuana is legal in 33 US states, Canada, Germany, and a handful of other countries with varying restrictions.

Discussion Questions
1. Should medical marijuana be legalized? Why or why not?

2. Should recreational marijuana be legalized? Why or why not?

3. Should travelers face penalties in their home country for criminal violations in a foreign country? Why or why not?


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Laura Villadiego, “Will Thailand’s Legal Medical Marijuana Seed a New Black Market?,”, Jan. 1, 2019