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How Far Will Thailand’s Cannabis Green Gold Rush Go

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Despite its stigma in much of Southeast Asia, a new law in Thailand allowing for the research and development of medical cannabis. Blazing a path for the crop’s production and opening new economic opportunities.

Thailand made headlines all over the world last December when it became the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize cannabis for medical use and research purposes. Sparking a race to cash in on what could someday become the country’s main cash crop.

Full legalization was a core policy of the Bhumjaithai party’s campaign in the March 24 election. Their cannabis policy helped it win the fifth most seats in Thailand’s parliament.

The government has also made the development of the industrial potential of cannabis one of its priorities. Saying its study and development “should be sped up for the cannabis medical industry. This to create economic opportunity and income for the people.”

A so-called “green rush” has followed and the first batch of medical cannabis oil was delivered and distributed to hospitals early August. Several companies have applied for research permits and patents as they look to gain a foothold in Thailand’s cannabis market.

Cannabis economic opportunities

The economic opportunities of medical marijuana was one of the many factors behind the new legislation

Interest has not been limited to the private sector. The government has built an industrial-scale medical marijuana facility housing 12,000 plants, the largest in Southeast Asia. These will be used in the production of over one million bottles of cannabis oil by February 2020.

“Marijuana is Thailand’s future cash crop,” secretary-general of the ruling party Phalang Pracharat, Sontirat Sontijirawonghas told DW.

Research increasing

Until the change in law, the drug’s prohibition — even for scientific purposes — meant that the supplies needed for research into the medical benefits of cannabis were limited. In an unusual turn, the government sought to make up for the initial shortfall of available research materials by turning to the only readily available stocks: cannabis seized from criminals by police.

A longer-term solution has been to remove low-level cannabis and hemp extracts from the banned narcotics list in September in a bid to promote the development of medical marijuana domestically.

Although only hospitals and research institutions are currently allowed to apply for permits to develop medical cannabis extracts, the crop has multi billion-dollar potential if private companies are permitted to enter the fray.

The Asian medical marijuana market will be worth an estimated $5.8 billion (€5.2 billion) by 2024, according to Prohibition Partners, a cannabis research firm.

Homegrown cannabis (Marijuana)

Bhumjaithai is also pushing a draft bill which would allow households to grow six cannabis plants for personal consumption for medical use. The party stresses that the policy would not allow for recreational use. The bill is expected to be passed next year after the Thai Parliament resumes its ordinary session in November.

Recreational users of marijuana in the Southeast Asian country still face severe penalties for possession, including up to 10 years in prison.

But some campaigners are optimistic, arguing that recent developments show changing attitudes, and hope that the movement will continue to gain momentum toward legalization.

“I think Thailand will legalize cannabis for recreational use within five to eight years. It is something I believe is inevitable, especially with more countries around the world legalizing recreational cannabis use for adults,” said cannabis advocate Chopaka.

Source: Deutsche Welle