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Thailand could become a medical marijuana tourist destination

10 Aug 2020

Thailand 's ailing economy, especially its tourism and agriculture sectors, is poised to gain a boost from new rules that ease private medical marijuana cultivation and sale.

The Cabinet amended the Narcotics Act on August 4, pending approval by the Parliament, to allow private medical operators — a category including some traditional medicinal practitioners and farmers — to grow and trade the crop for both export and import. The move expands

Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul's cornerstone policy, which bets that controlled marijuana legalization would boost the wellness, travel, and agriculture sectors. The latest plan will lift limits imposed when the country became the first to legalize herbal medicinal use in Southeast Asia in 2018. It also follows the opening of a medical marijuana clinic in the facilities of the Health Ministry in January which offers its patients free medicine.

This does not include the country's 147 licensed clinics which can currently prescribe it.

"Thailand is already a tourist destination for many foreigners, and marijuana will be another attraction for the country and for medical tourists," said Marut Jirasrattasiri, Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Traditional and Alternative Medicine in an interview. Private licensed medical practitioners will gain the right to "grow, produce, and export marijuana," he said, adding "more income options" for Thai farmers.

Thai investors will get priority, Mr Marut said. "For now, we want to use Thai money , particularly government-to-community collaboration to enhance knowledge, research, and production," Mr Marut said. "We don't want foreigners to come in and invest, and then all the benefits are reaped."

Agriculture and tourism are crucial sectors for the local economy. According to the Thai Rice Exporters Association, roughly a third of Thais make their living from rice alone. Meanwhile, in 2017, the wellness tourism sector generated 375 billion baht in domestic expenditure, more than the combined amounts in Indonesia and Malaysia, according to a report by the Global Wellness Institute.

The economy of Thailand is expected to contract 8.5 per cent in 2020 in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, Asia's largest projected decline.

"This will enable more patients to access medical marijuana for their ailments and increase awareness of medical marijuana in Thailand," said Traisuree Taisaranakul, a government spokeswoman, in a statement.

Cultivation and dispensing of marijuana are currently done exclusively by government agencies or closely regulated organisations. The plant remains a drug of category five so recreational use is prohibited. Unlawful possession could trigger a sentence of 10 years in prison, and "trafficking" is a crime punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty.

"Both Thais and foreigners will have the opportunity to be treated with medical marijuana in the next stages, but only after the Covid-19 pandemic has passed and inter-travel restrictions have been lifted," said Mr Marut. "Marijuana has always been a crop for Thailand, and it's loved by all foreign countries."

Most of the 23 exchange-traded health-care operators in Thailand, led by Bangkok Dusit Medical Services Plc Bumrungrad Hospital Plc and Samitivej Plc, derive a significant portion of their income from foreign patients.

Source Bangkok Post