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The History of Cannabis in Thailand: From Ancient Times to Legalization


Cannabis in Thailand

Introduction

Cannabis, also known as ganja, has a long and fascinating history in Thailand. From ancient times to the present day, this versatile plant has played a significant role in Thai culture and society. In this article, we will take a journey through time to explore the rich history of cannabis in Thailand, from its early use as a medicinal herb to its recent legalization. We will delve into the cultural significance of cannabis, its traditional uses, and the changing legal landscape that has shaped its perception. Join us as we uncover the intriguing story of cannabis in Thailand.


Ancient Origins: Cannabis in Southeast Asia

The history of cannabis in Thailand dates back centuries, with evidence of its use as early as the 13th century. French explorers documented the cultivation of cannabis in various parts of Southeast Asia, including Thailand. The plant's medicinal properties were recognized by locals during this time and further documented by Chinese herbalists and European traders who imported it from India or Persia for medical purposes.


During the Sukhothai period (13th-17th centuries), cannabis was not only used as a medicine but also as an additive to food and a religious sacrament. It was believed that smoking marijuana could allow one to communicate with spirits, a practice that was helpful for fortune-telling. Cannabis cultivation flourished during the Ayutthaya period (16th-18th centuries), where it was grown in large quantities for medicinal and spiritual purposes.


Changing Perceptions: Cannabis Prohibition in Thailand

However, as Thailand underwent modernization and Western influences began to shape society, attitudes towards cannabis began to shift. In the early 20th century, the Thai government initiated efforts to prohibit drug abuse and educate the public about the harmful effects of drugs. Cannabis, along with opium and heroin, was banned in the late 1930s. Despite the ban, cannabis continued to be used in Thailand, especially in urban areas influenced by American culture.


The Vietnam War in the 1960s played a significant role in the increased use of cannabis in Thailand. American soldiers stationed in Thailand were exposed to marijuana and heroin during their service, leading to addiction and the use of drugs as a coping mechanism. This influx of American culture and drug use had a profound impact on Thai society, shaping the perception and popularity of cannabis.


Thai Stick and Global Influence

During the Vietnam War, a unique form of cannabis consumption known as "Thai stick" gained popularity among American soldiers. Thai sticks consisted of fully cured cannabis flower skewered on a bamboo stick, wrapped with hemp string and fan leaves. This innovative method of consumption became synonymous with Thai cannabis and gained recognition in the global cannabis community.


The influence of American soldiers and their exposure to Thai cannabis during the war had a lasting impact. References to Thai weed can be found in songs by iconic artists such as Mobb Deep, Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, and Eminem. Thai cannabis strains gained "street cred" and were cross-bred with domestic American cultivars, leading to the introduction of their unique resilience and terpene profiles.


Cannabis Prohibition and the Path to Legalization

Despite its cultural significance and widespread use, cannabis remained illegal in Thailand for much of the 20th century. In 2018, however, Thailand made history by becoming the first country in Asia to decriminalize medical cannabis. The Cannabis Act 2477 BE and Narcotics Act 2522 BE were amended to allow for the legal use of medical cannabis, requiring licenses for cultivation, distribution, and use.


The government's decision to decriminalize medical cannabis opened up a new industry in Thailand. The Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) developed various cannabis-based products for medical use, and the perception of cannabis began to shift from a negative image to a plant with numerous benefits. Cannabis-based food, cosmetics, and other products gained popularity, and marketing campaigns aimed to promote the cannabis business and stimulate the economy.


The Road to Complete Legalization

While the legalization of medical cannabis was a significant step forward, the Thai government did not stop there. In early 2022, a bill was approved to completely remove cannabis from the list of banned drugs, effectively making all parts of the plant legal. Possession, cultivation, and consumption of cannabis were no longer punishable by law.


This move towards complete legalization had political motivations as well. The current Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, who initiated the push for cannabis legalization, aims to run for prime minister in the upcoming elections. Creating new opportunities and income in the cannabis industry has become a winning campaign strategy, particularly for farmers and those affected by the pandemic.


The Current Legal Landscape

With cannabis officially removed from the list of narcotics, the legal landscape surrounding cannabis in Thailand is evolving. However, specific regulations and laws are still being developed and implemented. As of now, there is no comprehensive legislation controlling cannabis, but smaller announcements have been made in the Royal Gazette.


Thai households are allowed to grow up to six cannabis plants, provided they are not used for psychoactive or recreational purposes. The flowers and buds must be sent to the state, and care must be taken to ensure that the THC content does not exceed 0.2% by weight. This new legal framework offers opportunities for individuals and families to participate in the cannabis industry and support the medical cannabis program.


Embracing Cannabis Culture

The changing legal landscape has also led to the growth of cannabis culture in Thailand. Cannabis conventions and events have been held, fostering diversity and an entrepreneurial mindset akin to that found in North America. Thailand has even developed its own cannabis strain, Issara 01, specifically for the legal medical marijuana program.


As the perception of cannabis continues to evolve, Thailand is poised to become a leader in the cannabis industry. Research programs and studies on the benefits of marijuana are being conducted at universities, furthering our understanding of this versatile plant. The future holds promise for both medical and recreational cannabis use in Thailand, as the country embraces the potential of this ancient plant.


Conclusion

The history of cannabis in Thailand is a testament to the cultural and societal impact of this versatile plant. From its ancient origins as a medicinal herb to its recent legalization, cannabis has played a significant role in Thai culture and society. The journey from prohibition to decriminalization and now complete legalization has opened up new opportunities and possibilities for individuals and the economy as a whole. As Thailand embraces cannabis culture and explores its potential, the future looks bright for this ancient plant in the Land of Smiles.

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