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Thailand has high hopes for tourism with legal marijuana

Cannabis Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
An employee at the Highland Cafe in Bangkok holds up a piece of cannabis after its removal from the Thai narcotics list
  • Marijuana-infused food and drinks now legal to consume
  • Farmers asked to register on government’s ‘grow ganja’ app
  • Smoking cannabis and high-strength products still outlawed

Thailand legalised the growing of marijuana and its consumption in food and drinks last week, with the aim of boosting tourism and agriculture.

The government plans to give away 1 million plants to encourage farmers to take up its cultivation as a cash crop

It is the first Asian country to take this step, although smoking pot in public can still violate public health laws.

On Thursday, locals and tourists queued up at outlets selling cannabis-infused drinks, sweets and other items, as advocates welcomed the reform in a country that has long had a reputation for strict anti-drug laws.

Among those at the front of the queue at one Bangkok shop was Rittipong Dachkul, who had been waiting since Wednesday evening to buy his first legal marijuana.

“I took a bus here after I got off work,” said Rittipong, 24.

“We’re now able to find it easily, we don’t have to worry about the source, but I have no idea about the quality.”

Thailand, which has a tradition of using cannabis to relieve pain and fatigue, legalised medicinal marijuana in 2018.

“After Covid, the economy going down the drain, we really do need this,” said Chokwan Kitty Chopaka, who owns a shop selling cannabis gum sweets.

However, the authorities aim to head off an explosion in recreational use by limiting the strength of the products on offer.

The possession and sale of cannabis extracts containing more than 0.2 percent of its psychoactive ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is not allowed.

Those who break the law can still face jail and fines.

While cannabis has been delisted as a narcotic, the Thai parliament is still debating a draft cannabis bill, leading to some confusion in the meantime over how it can be legally used.

Growers have to register on a government app called PlookGanja or “grow ganja”. Nearly 100,000 people have signed up to the app, said health ministry official Paisan Dankhum.

Some were concerned about quality control among the new cultivators.

“It will be hard to control the level of THC and other contaminants in their products and that could be dangerous for consumers,” said Suphamet Hetrakul, co-founder of the Teera Group, which grows cannabis for medical use.

The health ministry said it had approved 1,181 products including cosmetics and food, containing cannabis extracts and it expects that the industry will earn as much as 15 billion baht ($435.16 million) by 2026.

Big business is jumping in too. Agro-industrial conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Foods and energy firm Gunkul Engineering have teamed up to produce food and drinks infused with the extract.