Seeing through the haze: The new pot law
Starting on Thursday, Thais will be able to cultivate cannabis and hemp for home and medicinal use, though there are unresolved questions.
In a highly anticipated move, Thailand is set to decriminalise cannabis and hemp on June 9 as a new law takes effect. The milestone makes Thailand the first Asian nation to decree home cultivation legal, but there are still prohibitions. The Bangkok Post breaks down pressing questions surrounding the new regulations.
Q: WHAT DOES THAILAND’S NEW WEED LAW ENTAIL?
On Feb 9 this year, the Public Health Ministry announced it is delisting cannabis and hemp as controlled substances from the Category 5 list of narcotics in the Royal Gazette. The law takes effect 120 days after the announcement in the publication.
The government said the primary purpose of the new law is to encourage enthusiasts to use Thai homegrown marijuana to relieve certain health conditions and promote good health at the household level.
Thailand already has at least 10 species of local cannabis plants. Recently Thailand made global headlines when the government announced a nationwide campaign to hand out 1 million cannabis seedlings to supply interested growers.
Importing cannabis seeds or other parts of the plants and cannabis-infused products are still subject to agriculture and other rules, meaning one must seek permission from the government. While those looking to plant marijuana for home cultivation can do so by registering online with the government. Finished products brought into Thailand from other countries, either in person by travellers or sent by mail, will be regulated by different laws depending on the product types (the two main categories are imported food products and cosmetics).
Q: IS MARIJUANA LEGAL IN THAILAND NOW?
The short answer is low-THC marijuana for home cultivation is considered legal from June 9. The law considers low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) to be 0.2% by weight or lower. A higher percentage for cannabis and hemp extracts is still illegal.
THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, which is what makes people feel high.
When cannabis is removed from the country’s narcotics list, Dr Kiattisak Wongrajit, permanent secretary for public health, said the Tobacco Control Act of 2017 will be employed to ensure marijuana is used by households for health and medical reasons, not recreational purposes. A new draft law on cannabis control is being deliberated in parliament.
A person cannot “get high” legally in a public area, such as roaming the streets of Bangkok. There are legal consequences for such actions, including the fumes from smoking marijuana being considered a disturbance. The fine for such misconduct is a maximum of 25,000 baht and/or three months of jail time.
Q: WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES IF YOU BREAK THE NEW LAW?
Marijuana extractions containing more than 0.2% THC by weight will still be recognised as a Type 5 substance and regulated under laws pertaining to narcotic control and suppression.
Kulkanya Vorawanichar, senior associate at Bangkok-based law firm LawPlus, said the Cannabis and Hemp Act is still in draft form. It states any person failing to obtain a permit from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for growing cannabis for commercial purposes will be subject to a prison term of up to three years and/or a fine of up to 300,000 baht.
The draft act does not contain any provision for penalties for people who fail to notify the FDA of cannabis cultivation for household use.
“In the interim period [before the draft act becomes law], there is no specific law imposing penalties on people who fail to notify the FDA that they wish to grow cannabis. Based on our understanding from the FDA, it is only seeking cooperation from people who wish to grow cannabis during this interim period,” she said.
As for monitoring and enforcement, Ms Kulkanya said the laws governing cannabis are new and evolving.
“Our view is the Thai government will ensure such laws are properly enforced. We will have to wait and see the level of resources that are dedicated to enforcement. In general, the trigger for enforcement of many offences is often a law enforcement authority being made aware of a breach, often by a public complaint,” she said.
Q: HOW CAN ONE CULTIVATE MARIJUANA FOR USE AT HOME?
Anyone intending to grow marijuana and hemp plants at home for health and medicinal purposes can do so by registering on FDA.moph.go.th or the FDA’s mobile application called Plookganja. Home growers can grow as many plants as they want.
There are three steps: fill in personal information, state the reasons for planting, then receive an electronic registration certificate.
FDA deputy secretary-general Withid Sariddeechaikool said the agency has trained officials in the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s Health Department and provincial administration organisations throughout the country to answer inquiries regarding registration. The FDA hotline to any questions is 1556, then press 3. The website is in Thai.
Q: WHAT DOES THE GOVERNMENT HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH?
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has long pushed for decriminalisation of cannabis in Thailand. He stressed multiple times the current easing of marijuana restrictions aims to promote three areas: highlighting the medical benefits, serving as an alternative treatment for patients, and supporting a green economy by pushing marijuana and hemp to be cash crops.
The image of California-style weed dispensaries or people lighting up at the beach is not what the Thai government has in mind. Still, the law could change to promote recreational use in the future.
Sittichai Daengprasert, chief executive of JSP Pharmaceutical Manufacturing (Thailand), a medicine and nutritional supplements distributor, sees both villagers and businesses benefiting from the growth of the cannabis industry.
He said the move should kick-start the use of cannabis in various industries, from medicine to cosmetics and food, marking a new era for the plant in Thailand.
JSP said the CBD (cannabidiol) oil market has an estimated value of 100 billion baht.
Q: WHAT DO THAIS THINK ABOUT MARIJUANA USE?
Market research and data analytics firm YouGov found almost half of Thais have used cannabis-based products in the past two years, while 62% say they are interested in consuming such products in the next 12 months.
The report is based on a survey carried out online in February with 2,044 participants aged 18 and older. It found 73% of Thais are aware of the commercial availability of cannabisbased products, ranging from beverages and food to cosmetics.
The report found 26% of Thai men and 15% of Thai women are interested in consuming a marijuana product in the next year.