Thailand depends on tourism and agriculture for its economic stability. It is now ailing economic-wise. Like every other country coping with Covid-19. But, it looks like some new rules are in place to boost the other sectors of the economy. One of the only recession and pandemic-proof industries; medical cannabis.
The Cabinet amended the Narcotics Act on August 4th. Currently, the bill is awaiting parliament’s approval. The pending law allows private medical operators, a category that includes some traditional medicine practitioners and farmers, to grow and trade the crop. They can import or export marijuana.
This crucial move expands a cornerstone policy of Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul. The officials agree that the controlled legalization of Cannabis will improve both the travel and agricultural sectors.
The current plan will do away with the limits set in place when back in 2018. Thailand became the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize medical marijuana. And other APAC countries have studied the successful model.
In January of 2020, a free medical marijuana clinic was opened. The marijuana clinic was located in the Ministry of Health facilities. The clinic offers free medicine to patients. The other 147 authorized clinics in the country don’t provide free medicine but can prescribe it.
“Thailand is already a tourist destination for many foreigners. Marijuana will be another attraction for the country and medical tourists,” Marut Jirasrattasiri, director-general of the Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine, said in an interview.
Private medical practitioners with licenses will now grow, produce, and export marijuana. Farmers will also have more options to become licensed cultivators, processors and manufacturers of cannabis products.
There is no doubt that reducing barriers to business entry, and supporting the cannabis industry can have many benefits. It is a product that continues to sell (even more so in the era of social distancing and the pandemic). And the tax revenues can prove to be critical to struggling economies, now impacted by Covid-19. The Tourism Authority of Thailand reported that tourism revenues rose 3% in 2019, to $1.93 trillian baht. That is approximately $62.18 billion in U.S. dollars. Analysts have estimated that Thailand may lose up to $47 billion dollars in 2020 because of Covid-19 travel bans.
“We want to use Thai money for now. Especially collaboration between the government and communities. This is to enhance knowledge, research, and production,” Marut said. “We don’t want foreigners to come in and invest, then reap all the benefits.”
The agriculture and tourism sectors are vital to Thailand’s local economy. According to the Thai Rice Exporters Association, about a third of Thai citizens make their living from rice alone. The wellness tourism sector generated domestic expenditures of $12 billion in 2017. That is more than what Indonesia and Malaysia combined generate, according to the Global Wellness Institute report.
Thailand’s economy is likely to shrink by 8.5% in 2020 amid the global coronavirus pandemic. The most significant decline will be projected in Asia.
“This will allow more patients to have access to medical marijuana for their ailments. It will also increase awareness of medical marijuana in Thailand,” Traisuree Taisaranakul, a government spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Marijuana cultivation and dispensing is only done by government agencies or regulated organizations. Cannabis is scheduled as a category-five drug, which means recreational use is illegal in Thailand. A ten-year prison sentence is a penalty for illegal possession. “Trafficking” marijuana is a crime that is punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty.
“In the next stages, both Thais and foreigners will be treated with medical marijuana. But this is after the Covid-19 pandemic has passed and inter-travel restrictions lifted,” Marut said.
Thailand is one of the countries in South East Asia that has enormous economic potential. With the significant change in its Narcotics Act, it has opened itself up to a significant new revenue stream. One that could rejuvenate the tourism industry once Covid-19 restrictions have passed.