Thailand takes a step towards cannabis legalization

Thailand relaxed its cannabis laws on Thursday, allowing users to own and grow the plant, albeit under new and complicated guidelines.

The change comes after Thailand’s landmark legalization of medical cannabis in 2018, the first such move by a country in Southeast Asia, where anti-drug laws are notoriously harsh.

The kingdom’s public health ministry announced in February that marijuana would be removed from its list of prohibited narcotics, and the rules took effect Thursday.

Activists welcomed the development and Bangkok cannabis shop Highland Cafe was doing a big trade in bud on Thursday.

“It’s a dream come true,” said co-owner Rattapon Sanrak.

“We have been fighting for it (legalization) for about 10 years,” the 35-year-old said.

Thailand has previously taken a tough stance on drugs, with people found with cannabis facing up to 10 years in prison and a hefty fine.

But some warned against lighting fires outside for now.

While the possession and sale of cannabis is now legal, smoking the substance outside your home could still get you arrested.

Violators could be fined 25,000 baht ($780) and face up to three months in jail.

And cannabis extracts with a concentration greater than 0.2 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound that produces the drug’s “high,” remain illegal.

Activist Cark K. Linn, author of a popular Thai cannabis newsletter, said the latest change was “effectively, in practice, a very radical legalization of cannabis in Thailand.”

However, Jeremy Douglas, a regional spokesman for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, urged caution, saying the legal reforms “have been a little hard to track.”

“Fundamentally, what we understand from the ONCB (Office of the Narcotics Control Board) is that the part of the law that governs cannabis has expired during the review process, and until it is final and approved by parliament, it will be can sell cannabis,” he said.

“So it became legal due to the ongoing process, by default,” Douglas said, adding that the ONCB maintains that the legal level of THC will remain at 0.2 percent.

But outside the Highland Café people were optimistic.

“I think it will take a long way to full legalization like Canada, like Amsterdam, but I think this is a good step,” said Siravit Taweechan, 27, as she patiently queued.

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