BANGKOK — The announcement of the nation’s first legal marijuana cultivation facility presages changes to the nation’s drug laws that will soon allow medical use of cannabis, Thailand’s top drug enforcement agent said Tuesday.
A recent rewrite of the nation’s strict narcotics laws will allow marijuana to be sold legally over-the-counter with a doctors’ prescription, Narcotics Control Board director Sirinya Sitdhichai said Tuesday.
“For medical purposes, they will be able to get the marijuana, but only on a doctor’s orders. They can’t grow it on their own,” Sirinya said. “This is what we have put in the draft.”
The drug laws were rewritten late last year and those revisions are currently on their way to the Cabinet for consideration, Sirinya said. Once the new regulations are approved, they will be put to a vote by the junta-appointed interim parliament.
Sirinya said he does not expect any opposition from lawmakers.
Notably, interviews with different agencies involved, from public health to law enforcement, have found no stated opposition. Instead officials are voicing a pragmatic approach to what would be the biggest leap toward decriminalization of narcotics so far in a country whose policy long consisted of incarceration and execution.
Just over a decade ago, the government endorsed summary executions of suspected drug offenders in a bloody campaign that by conservative estimates killed at least 2,500 people.
But Thailand has watched changing drug policy in the developed world and conditions have become ripe under military rule for change.
The previous Justice Minister, a member of the ruling junta, declared the war on drugs a failure in 2016 and said Thailand should embrace decriminalization and common-sense regulation.
The narcotics agency announced amendment of the laws last year. A narcotics official said in October that new laws were needed so that marijuana extracts could be used for medical treatment and research. Under existing law, marijuana is a Class 5 drug that is illegal to consume or possess for any reason.
Sirinya said the revised law doesn’t go so far as to allow recreational use of marijuana, but he didn’t rule out the future possibility, saying the debate hasn’t been settled.
“Doctors in our country are still divided into two opinions,” he said. “Some fear that if we legalize it for recreational use, children may use it, and it may impact their brain development. We are looking at both the good and the bad.”
Sirinya’s comments came a day after an agricultural entrepreneur announced plans to build Thailand’s first legal marijuana plantation in Sakon Nakhon province, sparking a new round of discussion online about drug decriminalization.
Sirinya said the businessman, Prapat Panyachartraksa, recently sought his opinion about his plan to build the 5,000 rai plantation.
“I told him in order to grow, he must get permission from the Public Health Ministry through the Food and Drug Administration first,” Sirinya said. “I don’t know if he will get it.”
If Prapat’s plan are green-lit, the Narcotics Control Board will step in to monitor the cultivation and ensure all it produces go to medical research and not consumption, he said.
A deputy director of the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday there are currently no plans to grant such permission.
Asked by a reporter about the proposed weed facility Tuesday, junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha said officials should study the issue carefully before making any decisions.