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High times: Thailand taps into cannabis tourism with a big caveat

Thailand became the first Asian nation to legalise the growing of marijuana and its consumption in food and drink for medicinal purposes last week with the newly decriminalised substance now available to locals and visitors.

Thailand became the first Asian nation to legalise the growing of marijuana and its consumption in food and drink for medicinal purposes last week with the newly decriminalised substance now available to locals and visitors.

However, Thailand will be far from a weed wonderland with cannabis use strictly for medical reasons, not recreational use, with lighting up in public discouraged and could still land tourists with fines or jail time.

Speaking to CNN in an interview ahead of the move, Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said he expected legal cannabis production to boost the economy but cautioned that recreational use of the drug remains illegal.

“It’s a no,” said Anutin, who is also a deputy prime minister. “We still have regulations under the law that control the consumption, smoking or use of cannabis products in non-productive ways.”

Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul opening a clinic in Chaing Mai
Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul opening a clinic in Chaing Mai

“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 you think that you want to come to Thailand just because you heard that cannabis or marijuana is legal … [or] come to Thailand to smoke joints freely, that’s wrong.

“Don’t come. We won’t welcome you if you just come to this country for that purpose,” he said.

The new marijuana move comes as Thailand recently announced plans to give away one million cannabis plants once legalised to encourage local farmers to take up cultivation of this potential cash crop to bolster its booming medical tourism industry.

The overall aim is to boost the South-East Asian country’s agriculture, medical research and tourism industries by delisting marijuana as a narcotic, but smoking pot in public is still not allowed and can violate public health laws.

Travellers to Thailand can partake in cannabis-infused drinks, sweets and other edible items with a THC level of less than 0.2 per cent, available from cafes, restaurants and outlets with pop-up trucks already operating in popular Bangkok tourist haunts such as Khaosan Road.

Thailand has traditionally used cannabis to relieve pain and fatigue and became the first Asian country to legalise marijuana for medicinal use in 2018.