Thailand takes step towards legalising cannabis

·2-min read

Thailand relaxed its cannabis laws Thursday, with users permitted to possess and grow the plant -- albeit under complicated new guidelines.

The change comes after Thailand's landmark 2018 legalisation of medicinal cannabis -- the first such move by a country in Southeast Asia, where anti-drugs laws are notoriously harsh.

The kingdom's public health ministry announced in February that marijuana would be removed from its banned narcotics list, and the rules came into effect on Thursday.

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

"It's a dream come true," said co-owner Rattapon Sanrak.

"We've been fighting for it (legalisation) for about 10 years," the 35-year-old said.

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

But some warned against lighting up outside just yet.

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

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

And cannabis extracts with more than 0.2 percent concentration 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 and practically, a very radical legalisation of cannabis in Thailand".

Jeremy Douglas, regional spokesman for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, urged caution however, saying the legal reforms have "been a bit difficult to track".

"Fundamentally what we understand from ONCB (Office of the Narcotics Control Board) is that the part of the law governing cannabis has expired while in the review process, and until it is final and cleared by parliament cannabis can be sold," he said.

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

But outside the Highland Cafe people were optimistic.

"I think it will take a long way to full legalisation like Canada, like Amsterdam, but I think this is a good step," said 27-year-old Siravit Taweechan as he patiently queued.

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