Thailand's National Legislative Assembly approved the use of medical marijuana by a vote of 166 to 0, with 13 members abstaining.
The Thai legislation will amend the country's current drug laws to allow the licensed use of medical marijuana as well as a local plant called "kratom." Kratom is a Thai plant traditionally used as a stimulant and as a painkiller.
"This is a New Year's gift from the National Legislative Assembly to the government and the Thai people," said Somchai Sawangkarn during a televised parliamentary session. Sawangkarn is the chairperson of the committee that drafted the medical marijuana legislation.
Passed on Christmas Day, the law legalizes the production, import, export, possession, and use of marijuana and kratom products for medical purposes. Like many other legalized medical marijuana programs, purveyors, producers, and researchers will require specific licenses to handle pot-products; and consumers will require prescriptions.
The current status quo of pot politics in Southeast Asia
Thailand is the second country to legalize medical marijuana use in Southeast Asia, with South Korea surprisingly passing an albeit seemingly stricter medical marijuana program earlier this month.
Malaysia, Thailand's neighboring country, is considering passing a similar state-regulated medical marijuana program while New Zealand enacted legislation which removed restrictions from the medical use of cannabis.
While this new legislation out of Thailand will permit the medical use of marijuana, recreational use of drugs such as cannabis shall remain illegal, and persons convicted of recreational use are subject to prison terms and fines consistent with the number of drugs involved.
Before this pro-pot political wave, there had been little tolerance for marijuana in Southeast Asia. Marijuana traffickers caught in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia can face capital punishment.
As recently as August, the New York Times reported that a man who sold cannabis oil to patients was sentenced to death by hanging. The Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, said that the sentence should be reviewed.
Additionally, a British man told the BBC earlier this month that he faced up to 15 years in an Indonesian prison after he was arrested with cannabis oil that he used to treat chronic arthritic pain.
Details about Thailand's medical marijuana program
Unfortunately, this legislation is still too hot off the presses to determine exactly how medical marijuana will be administered and overseen in Thailand.
What is known is that only government-authorized people may plant or possess marijuana. Medical users must have a prescription or a medical marijuana identification card to avoid prosecution.
Additionally, there has been some controversy over the medical marijuana program, but for fairly surprising reasons. According to Reuters News Agency, the main controversy over the legislation involves patent requests by foreign firms. Requests that Thai researchers are concerned would allow foreign firms to dominate the medical marijuana market, making it difficult for Thai patients to access medicines.
"We're going to demand that the government revoke all these requests before the law takes effect," Panthep Puapongpan, Dean of the Rangsit Institute of Integrative Medicine and Anti-Aging, told Reuters.
Many pot politicos are hopeful that this legislation will pave the way for the legalization of recreational use; however, the current state of political affairs in Thailand may serve as a bump in the road.
While Thailand is currently an active monarchy run by a King, the day-to-day government brass and tacks are handled by a military regime, which seized power in 2014.
This military drafted a national Constitution, which calls for Parliamentary elections early next year. Allowing the use of medical marijuana may win some support for military-backed parties.
This article first appeared in Pot Network.
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