The southeast Asian nation of 70 million is (sort of) joining the legal cannabis club

click to enlarge Thailand adds Asia to the list of cannabis-friendly continents.
Thailand adds Asia to the list of cannabis-friendly continents.

Thailand recently became the first Asian country to legalize cannabis, though the country is going about the process in a unique way.

From some perspectives, Thailand's approach is more of a decriminalization effort than flat-out legalization. Medical marijuana will be completely legal, but recreational use is technically still against the law. That means that, unlike here in Washington, there will be no recreational market. However, the new law doesn't provide much of an enforcement structure to keep people from using medical marijuana recreationally.

Under the new law it is now legal to cultivate, possess and consume cannabis in Thailand, provided you register with the government — think of it as getting a green card for medical marijuana back in the day. Unlike the green card, though, there isn't much of a regulatory framework, like being required to receive a prescription from a doctor. It appears for now that anyone can simply register with the government and that's that. Though the government has stated that "nuisance" use of cannabis, such as lighting up a joint on the street, is still a crime.

Thailand might try to pump the brakes on nonmedical use of cannabis, but they're going full steam ahead on the medical side. Last month, the government announced that as part of the rollout of the new law, they would distribute 1 million cannabis plants to citizens at no cost. They're literally giving away free weed.

Thailand's new law is simultaneously leaning into establishing legal cannabis in the country while also not coming out and saying it is fully, explicitly legal. It's created a massive gray area for recreational use that will be hard to enforce, at least for those who use only in their own homes.

Thailand is joining a small but growing group of countries in the legal cannabis club. No, it won't be codified into law as fully legal for recreational use like it is in many U.S. states as well as in Canada and Uruguay. Instead, Thailand is more aligned with Georgia, Malta, Mexico and South Africa, where recreational use is effectively legal, though there are caveats relating to for-profit sales and use outside the home.

It's also a major symbolic step for pro-legalization efforts worldwide. Asia was the last continent, Antarctica aside, without a single country where recreational cannabis had been legalized. That's no longer the case, thanks to Thailand. ♦

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