Thailand leads slow push to legalize cannabis in Asia

Thailand's general election in March had a potentially powerful side effect: It made a party that advocates the full legalization of marijuana the country's fourth-largest political force.

In a region that maintains some of the harshest narcotics laws on the planet, including death for trafficking, the cannabis taboo is beginning to go up in smoke. Even before the election, Thailand's junta became the first Southeast Asian government to legalize the drug for medicine and research, amending a strict 1979 law as a "New Year's gift" to the people after heavy lobbying by pro-cannabis groups.

But as Asian countries slowly begin to follow the lead of Western governments that have accepted weed for medical and even recreational use, critics warn the authorities may not fully understand the consequences as they zero in on a new source of tax revenue.

Thailand's Bhumjaithai party argues fully legal pot would bring big economic benefits. In the election campaign, it vowed to promote cannabis as a lucrative commodity that could help poor farmers earn up to 400,000 to 600,000 baht ($13,000 to $19,500) a year. Now the party is a member of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's coalition government, and has been rumored to have a shot at the health ministry portfolio.

Supachai Jaisamuth, a leading member of the party, said it will continue to push for embracing cannabis as a cash crop. "We are now a government coalition party so it is easier to continue the policy that we promised the Thai people during the election," he said.

Read more at asia.nikkei.com


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