Ever since the Thai government voted 166 to 0 to legalize cannabis for medicinal use in Nov 2018, the question “Is marijuana legal in Thailand?” has been a hot topic both online and throughout Thailand.
That partially stems from the fact that the penalties for misunderstanding the law are quite severe.
Marijuana is still considered a Category 5 controlled substance which carries a penalty of up to 5 years imprisonment for mere possession. The possession of over 10kg (22 pounds) can result in a prison term of up to 15 years.
So what changed?
Essentially, what changed is that Thai law now permits the cultivation, sale, prescription, and possession of cannabis and cannabis-based products if the person or entity is properly licensed or holds a prescription issued by a medical professional specifically authorized to prescribe medical marijuana/cannabis.
This means that someone cannot just go to just any doctor and receive a medical marijuana prescription as they might be able to do in some western countries. The doctor or other medical professional, and the hospital or clinic that they work for, must have received special training on how cannabis can be used in healthcare.
So while, technically, this made medical marijuana legal in Thailand, the rollout of cannabis care has been cautious and slow. Hospitals, clinics, and medical professionals all had to go through a training and certification process under the supervision of the Ministry of Public Health.
Foreigners And Medical Marijuana in Thailand
There does not seem to be any restrictions on foreigners possessing or using medical marijuana in Thailand other than those outlined above (you must have a valid prescription for it). In fact, the Tourism and Sports Minister has stated that he would like to promote medical marijuana tourism.
Additionally, shortly after medical marijuana was legalized the Thai government declared an amnesty program for anyone that had marijuana from prior to the law being enacted. Foreigners as well as Thais were eligible to apply for amnesty.
Conditions Treatable With Medical Cannabis
According to Dr. Tares Krassanairawiwong, Secretary-General, Thai FDA, they are initially looking to classify possible use for cannabis-based therapies into three categories:
Conditions that are scientifically proven to respond positively to cannabis treatment. This would include certain types of cancer, unresponsive epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and certain forms of chronic pain.
Conditions where cannabis may improve the patient’s quality of life. This would include Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, stress and terminally ill patients.
Conditions where cannabis is recognized as an experimental treatment.
We have compiled a list of medically qualifying conditions for cannabis treatment in Thailand.
Recreational (Adult-Use) Marijuana in Thailand
At this time, neither Thai citizens nor foreigners are permitted to grow, possess, or use cannabis without a license or prescription.
Law enforcement continues to treat unauthorized possession of marijuana as a serious offense.
Bringing Your Own Medical Marijuana Into Thailand
Technically, tourists visiting Thailand are permitted to bring a 90-day supply of medical marijuana into Thailand provided that they have a prescription from the country of their residence, a certificate from their doctor specifying exactly what condition the patient is being treated with cannabis for, and they must apply to the Thai FDA for approval prior to arrival.
With that said, so far, there is little information on exactly how this process would work and given the potential penalties for attempting to bring cannabis products into Thailand illegally, it’s probably safer to avoid traveling with medical marijuana until the process has been better defined.
For instance, there is no approved form specifying the format of the doctor’s certificate, whether it needs to be translated, or whether it needs to be certified/notarized and if so, by whom.
While medical marijuana is legal in Thailand for treating patients, currently, growing marijuana is mostly confined to research facilities and specially authorized growers.
In Sept of 2019, the Bhumjaithai Party proposed a law that would allow Thais to grow up to six plants per household for personal use.
It is unclear at this time whether or not the grower would need to have a prescription for medical marijuana. Nor was it made clear if the law would be extended to cover foreigners living in Thailand. However, foreigners are prohibited from employment in agriculture under Thai labor laws and the proposed law would allow growers to sell their product to “licensed institutions” which may prevent foreigners from being permitted to grow their own medical marijuana.
Then in Nov of 2019 a law was proposed by the Minister of Public Health to allow farmers to grow medical cannabis. The farmers would register their crops with a state agency who would oversee and monitor the farmers.
Another law proposed in Dec of 2019 would allow Thai farmers to grow up to 1 rai (approximately 1/2 acre) per household of hemp for the production of hemp-based medicine, food, and cosmetics.
A proposal was agreed to in Jan 2020 that would take hemp off of the narcotics list, which pave the way for the previously mentioned proposal to allow farmers to grow up to 1 rai per household of hemp.
Marijuana Legal Penalties in Thailand
The Narcotics Act of B.E. 2522 (1979) specifically names marijuana as a Category 5 substance and carries the following penalties:
Possession of up to 10kg, maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and/or a fine of 50,000 baht.
Possession of more than 10kg, is considered as possession with intent to sell. The sentence can range from 2 – 15 years in prison, and/or include a fine of 20,000 to 150,000 baht. Charges can also be levied for amounts of 10kg or more for the intent to produce, import or export cannabis.
Medical Marijuana Politics
Although there seems to be widespread support from Thai citizens and in the Thai government for legalization for medicinal purposes, even many supporters of medical marijuana do not support recreational or uncontrolled medical use.
The Narcotics Control Board, as well as the Prime Minister, have issued several public statements warning the public that marijuana should only be used under the strict supervision of a medical professional.
Likewise, Tourism and Sports Minister, Pipat Ratchakitprakan, also a member of the Bhumjaithai Party, has said he intends to promote medical marijuana tourism similar to other forms of medical tourism.
Why Did The Government Make Marijuana Legal in Thailand?
Considering the fact that Thailand has taken such a hard stance against all drugs in the past and has punished marijuana possession and trafficking as harshly as hard drugs, it’s natural to wonder what brought around such an abrupt change.
But, it’s good to remember that marijuana was once a major crop for Thai farmers and was used in Thai traditional medicine. The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) pressured the Thai government during the 1960’s and 1970’s to join in its War on Drugs, which led to marijuana being banned in Thailand.
With the US loosening its own restrictions on marijuana and many other countries already having legalized or decriminalized marijuana, Thailand wanted to be the first country in South-East Asia to relax it’s drug laws on cannabis.
Somchai Sawangkarn, the chairman of the committee that drafted the new legislation heralded it as a “New Year’s gift from the National Legislative Assembly to the government and the Thai people.”
It also didn’t hurt that Thailand’s economy relies heavily on agriculture and legalizing a new cash crop for the farmers was seen as a savvy move by the government.
Thai officials have stated that they would like to become a major exporter of marijuana and attract new types of tourism to the country based on the legalization of medical marijuana.
Restrictions on Foreign Businesses
While there are no prohibitions on expats or tourists receiving medical marijuana in Thailand under the supervision of a medical professional and as prescribed by the law, the same cannot be said about foreigners or foreign companies wanting to get involved in the marijuana business in Thailand.
The law specifically prohibits foreign-owned or majority-owned businesses from producing, selling, importing, exporting and possessing cannabis.
Exemptions from these restrictions are available for companies that are at least two-thirds owned by Thai citizens with at least two-thirds of the company’s board members being Thai citizens.
Other exemptions apply for businesses engaged in facilitating medical tourism and transportation providers (airlines, cruise ships, bus operators, etc) transporting patients into or out of Thailand.
Foreign Cannabis-Related Patent Requests
In Jan of 2019 the Thai government revoked all pending foreign patent request related to cannabis. The reasoning behind this action was to protect Thai interests and prevent foreign companies from creating a stranglehold on the Thai cannabis industry.
Using special executive powers granted to the military government under Rule 44, the Department of Intellectual Property (DIP) was granted to right to suspend cannabis-related patent applications on the grounds that they violate the public order, morality, public health, or welfare of the state.
Marijuana, Hemp and CBD Given Exceptions to Narcotics Act of B.E. 2522
In August of 2019 the Ministry of Public Health published a notice that certain exceptions to the Category 5 status would be made for marijuana and hemp and products derived from them.
Dried stalks, stem cores, and fibers of marijuana or hemp plants and products made from them are exempted.
CBD (Cannabidiol) extract with at least 99% purity and no more than 0.01% THC by weight are exempted.
Extracts having CBD as the main constituent and no more than 0.2% by weight of THC, which are considered Drugs as per the Drug Act, or Herbal Products per the Herbal Products Act.
Hemp, which is defined as, cannabis sativa L plant which contains no more than 0.5% THC by weight, and no more than 0.3% THC by weight in its seeds, received the additional exceptions:
Hemp seeds and hemp seed oil are considered Food per the Food Act.
Hemp seed extracts and hemp seed oil are considered Cosmetics per the Cosmetics Act.
The exceptions above pertaining to the Drug/Herbal and Cosmetic Act apply only for domestic licensees. In other words, the exceptions do not extend to imported products.
Proposed Amendments to Thai Cannabis Laws
In Aug of 2020, Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health and the Food and Drug Administration have proposed several changes to Thai cannabis laws. We want to make it very clear that it can take anywhere from months to years before these proposals are adopted by the Thai government. They may even be rejected altogether (though, that is unlikely).
The proposed changes would allow private companies, which includes traditional medicine practitioners and farmers, to grow and trade marijuana for import and export.
Additionally, patients that have been prescribed medical cannabis would be allowed to grow their own.
Foreigners visiting or living in Thailand will also be able to apply for an export permit which will allow them to take cannabis out of the country.
THIS PAGE LAST UPDATED ON 18-AUG-2020