The Meaning of The 9th of June: Legalization of Cannabis in Thailand
UPDATED to reflect the legalization of possession. Despite lingering ambiguities of legal reform, the 9th of June is a milestone in the global struggle for cannabis. Other Asian nations close behind.
What we know now
On the 9th of June, Thailand’s legalization of cannabis will be made official. It is sure to be strange and even confusing legalization as the country intends to promote all uses of cannabis except recreational use.
That means Hemp and all CBD products will be legal in any case, and real weed must be either medical or pharmaceutical -- the latter being prescribed to minors and hospital patients and the former being sold to or grown by anyone registered as a medical marijuana (MM) user.
Registering as an MM user is already a very simple, typically free process that takes place in any dispensary. The truly frustrating twist to Thailand’s version of legalization is that so far, there is no indication that dried flowers (weed) will be available at the dispensaries.
At the same time, the actions of Thai law enforcement strongly suggest that smoking weed will no longer be a crime, whether one is registered for MM or not:
More than 4,000 inmates charged or convicted in connection with cannabis-related offenses will be released from jail when the regulation removing cannabis and hemp from the list of narcotics takes effect on June 9, according to the Corrections Department.
The spokesperson of the Courts of Justice confirmed that all suspects and prisoners charged with production, import, export, distribution, use and possession of cannabis even before June 9 would be released.
The Spokesperson says the court would dismiss cases for any suspects on trial, and prisoners in jail would be released. Those who had already paid or presented any assets for bail would get their assets back too.
But the good news is followed by an absurdity only a few paragraphs down the page (which signals that the article is what I call a “legalization leak” from the gov.):
But, even if you use cannabis and hemp products and extracts at home legally, you can be still charged if you try and smoke it because smoking cannabis is considered a public nuisance. People can file a complaint against cannabis users or smoke creators and those users face a 3-month jail sentence and a fine of up to 25,000 baht if they are found guilty of a public nuisance charge.
The Public Health Ministry says this would help prevent the recreational use and other abuses of cannabis that are currently in conflict with existing Thai laws.
If you cause a fuss while smoking weed you could get pinched with a public nuisance charge.
Possession is legal in Thailand
The warning above has been rendered more or less moot by the announcement of June 9th that no one can be arrested for cannabis possession in Thailand any longer:
Police will be unable to arrest anyone in possession of cannabis when it’s officially removed from the Category 5 narcotics list on Thursday, according to the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB).
This means that the production, import, export, distribution, consumption, and possession of cannabis will be formally legalized.
Police cannot arrest those who possess cannabis or grow the plant for personal use.
Freedom for cannabis prisoners
As maddening as these contradictions are, the ongoing prohibitions of recreational use will not matter one jot to the released prisoners and their families. On the 9th of June, the prisoners walk free, knowing that their records on these matters will be expunged.
Nor will former prisoners knit their brows over the injustice they suffered under the old laws. No matter how much outsiders may clamor for justice for the victims, not one prisoner will think about reparations for the harm the state has caused them. They will be too busy celebrating their freedom. And we should all be of a spirit to celebrate with them.
Yes, it is insane that they were arrested and sentenced to live in cages for smoking weed in the first place, just as it is absurd to legalize cannabis without clear access to the center-point of all cannabis, i.e., real weed.
The injustices of prohibition and the brain-fart of a policy against recreational use will linger on. Yet June 9th 2022 is with us for a short time. It is one day in the history of legalization; indeed, June 9 is the first day of legal cannabis in all of Asia – the day the prisoners of pot prohibition are set free. Let it be.
The day is not a problem to be figured out. Rather, it is an event to be experienced. (I argued for a way out of the recreational use conundrum for Thailand in Thai Weed is Medicine.)
How much sooner will cannabis be legalized in multiple countries in Asia and Africa because of what is about to transpire in Thailand? Consider the impact it will have on the minds of ganja entrepreneurs not only in Thailand but also in those countries that are close – or not so close – behind. Can there be a definitive way to measure how Thailand’s legalization accelerates legal reform in other Asian countries?
Cannabis in Thailand: Dominoes and Magnets
One suggestion is that cannabis in Thailand will start a domino effect, as legalization here helps bring about the same in neighboring countries and others in its cohort.
The domino theory has its merits. You can look to see whether other countries are using Thailand’s policies as templates, for instance, or whether a country consults with Thai leaders who were instrumental in pulling back prohibitions.
One problem with the domino theory however, is that the evidence you might find of policy parallels will not help you determine whether the momentum of legalization has increased due to Thailand’s reforms.
Another pitfall of the domino theory is that it locks analysis of legal reforms into a nation-state-to-nation-state comparison. It is, after all, the centralized power of the nation-state that made cannabis prohibition viable in the first place and incentivized Washington DC to push for the global illegalization of weed.
Yet another weakness of the domino theory, ironically, is that the idea was first popularized by international relations operatives in favor of extending America’s war against Vietnam.
The argument was that even though Vietnam held no special interest for the US, if it were allowed to fall into the orbit of the Soviets, its neighbors would fall too, like dominoes.
As the conflict widened, more US servicemen and women populated Southeast Asia, where they discovered new strains of weed, including the now-famous Thai sticks. The popularity of Thailand’s potent weed tied to shafts of bamboo would lead the same operatives to force aggressive cannabis prohibition protocols on Thailand and its neighbors.
Then Saigon fell yet the dominoes did not. The theory of the domino effect proved to be a fallacious and disastrous justification for the intensification of bombing campaigns in North Vietnam and Cambodia to no effect, save destruction, murder and manslaughter.
As a practical metaphor, the domino effect applies most accurately to the spread not of communism in Asia bur rather American-inspired cannabis prohibition among allies and foes alike.
Vietnam won the war but lost legal cannabis; all Asian nations quickly illegalized the use of cannabis and enforced harsh punishments on its users and producers.
For legalization, let me suggest a new metaphor, that of the “magnet effect”. I think the notion of a magnetic force creating incentives and encouraging innovation provides a more robust method for assessing anecdotal evidence for Thailand’s role in the spread of weed legal reform.
Asia’s cannabis magnet: London. Tokyo. Johannesburg.
For instance, in the past 30 days alone, I have been approached by medical cannabis entrepreneurs in London, aspiring cannabis flower exporters to the EU from Tokyo and newly licensed Hemp exporters from Johannesburg. They all feel the pull of Thailand as the place that will let them maneuver with freedoms unavailable at home.
The intelligence I have gathered thus far is that the intuitions of these entrepreneurs are correct. Thailand is open to assisting them in a variety of ways. Obtaining a license to cultivate, manufacture and export real weed (that’s cannabis flowers with impressive THC content), though not a rubber-stamp affair, is nevertheless a straightforward process of connecting up with a university that has a cannabis research program and making an agreement with one Thai national to function as a liaison.
Exporting to Thailand: No
Exporting to Thailand is not on the table, for now. Soon enough however, the manufacturers of cannabis cosmetics and other products will run through local inventory and be in search of foreign sources. Meanwhile exporting real weed to the Kingdom remains up in the air, as the status of dried flowers as a consumer product remains uncertain.
Exporting from the Kingdom: Yes
Exporting real weed from Thailand is already a thing, with monitors flying in to analyze and verify that it meets all the necessary UN and national regulations for medical marijuana. Thailand already exports real weed to Israel and other countries are cued up.
Meanwhile, the magnetic energy of legal weed in Thailand is not escaping notice of its neighbors who, like Thailand, face dire economic situations without many options for restoring their economies after the self-inflicted lacerations of draconian lockdowns.
Malaysia feels the pull
Malaysia, of all places, where the gallows still await cannabis users if they are caught with enough of the plant that is being cultivated with relish directly to their north, has decided to cultivate hemp and ketum for medicinal purposes. The Deputy Communications Minister said as much on April 24th of this year.
Ketum, (kratom in English) for those who don’t know, has psychoactive properties and contains stimulant or sedative effects that make users feel high. It was illegalized at the same time as cannabis throughout Southeast Asia and is now sold at local grocery stores in Thailand.
Ketum is currently categorized under the Poisons Act 1952 in Malaysia. Though Malaysia has begun cultivating the large-leaf plant, it has stressed that there are no plans to permit its recreational use. Ahem.
South Korea & Japan feel the pull
South Korea’s medical marijuana is about as legal as it is in the UK, which is to say barely at all. Yet, the ganja entrepreneurs remain undeterred, claiming the southeastern province of Gyeongbuk as the capital of cannabis.
Japan shows little movement toward legalizing weed, yet companies are turning a profit by marketing CBD vape pens. The worry that CBD and Hemp are destined to become just another commodity has the first provider of CBD products lobbying to become the first Japanese company to export real weed from Thailand to the EU.
Nepal waits for rebirth
A country that watches Thailand’s innovations for cannabis tourism with acute curiosity is Nepal, that legendary cannabis tourist mecca in the foothills of the Himalayas, in an age when no one but a scientist ever uttered the word cannabis.
Legal reforms will have entrepreneurs in that exotic locale once again marketing the legendary Nepalese Royal Temple Balls. Surely, tourists will flock to the small, exotic and economically struggling country for the handcrafted balls of what were said to be the finest bits of hashish on the planet -- before they were snatched away by prohibitionists in 1976.
The former ambassador from Nepal to the US, Raj Khatiwada, said on April 29th of this year:
It is not justifiable that a poor country like ours has to treat cannabis as a drug.
What a rags-to-riches story Nepal will be once cannabis is legalized there!
On the 9th of June, the cannabis magnet of Thailand will be fully charged and irrevocably exposed. The elements it draws to itself will have primarily Asian characteristics. Most of these countries have suppressed their heritage of applying cannabis as a healing substance that enhances well being.
If Thailand can retrieve that history and share it with international travelers as it builds an import/export industry, it could draw all of those who understand the irreducible benefits of cannabis out from the darkness of prohibition, back into the light of smart cannabis use.