Given all the chaos going on around the world, it seems like now, more than ever, is when Thailand should embrace and legalize cannabis.
This window will not exist forever though. Thailand has an opportunity to establish the Land of Smiles as the most forward-thinking country in the region.
Reason #1: The World is Moving Towards Legalization
Countries around the world are beginning to take a more relaxed view of cannabis, both for recreational and medicinal use.
For decades, the medical community has been prohibited from researching cannabis. And now with those restrictions removed, they are discovering exciting potential uses for the plant.
And average citizens are realizing that the anti-cannabis rhetoric is propaganda fueled by the endless drug war.
Below is a partial list of countries that have legalized or decriminalized cannabis in one form or another.
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Costa Rica
- Czech Republic
- New Zealand
- North Macedonia
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- San Marino
- South Africa
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United Kingdom
That’s 61 out of 197 countries, 31%, almost a third of all countries.
And while the United States, the main instigator of the war on drugs, still considers cannabis illegal at the federal level, 11 states, 2 territories, and the District of Columbia have sided with the general public and the medical community to legalize recreational use, and another 16 states and 1 territory have decriminalized cannabis possession. Additionally, 33 states, 4 territories, and the District of Columbia allow medical use [Current as of Oct 2020].
Times are changing and it’s time for Thailand to look at cannabis as an opportunity rather than hold onto outdated views.
Reason #2: Cannabis is Medicine
Cannabis was recorded as early as 2737 BC in Chinese pharmacology books which recommended the plant for ailments such as constipation, gout, and rheumatism.
Egyptians in 1550 BC described using cannabis for the relief of hemorrhoids.
The Ancient Greeks used cannabis for nose bleeds.
Cannabis entered modern medicine in the 1830s when Dr. William Brooke O’Shaughnessy published research on the analgesic and anticonvulsant effects of the plant.
It was even entered into the United States Pharmacopeia in 1850.
Yet, beginning in the 1920s and 1930s, most of the world began going down the path of criminalizing cannabis. Unfortunately, this put a halt to research into the medicinal uses of cannabis.
It wasn’t until 1992 that researchers discovered the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) which is a very integral part of the central nervous system.
In essence, the ECS produces many of the same cannabinoids that are present in cannabis plants.
The ECS plays a role in sleep, mood, appetite, metabolism, memory, inflammation, chronic pain, cardiovascular function, liver function, and many other bodily processes.
Now that many countries finally beginning to relax laws on medical research into cannabis, doctors are finding that these cannabinoids produce significant medical benefits without the side effects associated with laboratory synthesized drugs.
While most people are familiar with THC (the cannabinoid that causes people to get “high”) and CBD, there is exciting research going on with other cannabis cannabinoids such as CBC which is an anti-inflammatory and antiviral, and THCV which helps promote bone growth.
We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the potential of the cannabis plant to naturally treat many ailments that we often take man-made for.
Thailand has an opportunity to become a major player both in production and scientific research into a new avenue of wellness.
Cannabis is not a miracle drug. Cannabis often gets a bad rap from such hyperbolic claims. But it certainly has medicinal value and researchers are making discoveries about cannabinoids at an accelerating pace. There is a lot of potential for improving people’s lives that needs to be explored.
Reason #3: Thai Culture and History are Rooted in Cannabis
Thailand is no stranger to cannabis. The Thai people have been using cannabis for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.
We don’t know exactly when the Thai people were introduced to cannabis but the Chinese were using it in herbal medicines as far back as 4,000 years ago.
We also know that the Thai word for the cannabis plant, “ganja” (กัญชา) is derived from Sanskrit, which dates the word going back at least 3,500 years.
Cannabis has been used by Thai people for medicine, food flavoring, dietary fiber, hemp products, as well as the high it produced.
Everyone from Muay Thai fighters to rice farmers commonly used it as a pain reliever in ointments for sore muscles.
Cannabis is part of the cultural heritage of the Thai people. It’s not only a plant, it is a part of Thai history.
Reason #4: Legalization Frees Up Law Enforcement to Focus on Crimes That Impact People
In 2016, Thailand’s then Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya said, “The world has lost the war on drugs, not only Thailand.”
Nations are beginning to realize that the ill-fated war on drugs has been a massive failure. Billions dollars have been spent and lives have been ruined, sometimes even ended, trying to control drugs through brute force.
Cannabis has never been linked to the type of crime that warrants the amount of money and personnel currently being used to combat it.
It has never caused a single overdose death. It has not brought about societal decay. It is not physically addictive leading people to do *anything* to get a fix.
Cannabis a plant. If legalized, people can grow their own if they can’t afford it. That makes it different from almost every other illegal drug.
Most of the criminal activity surrounding cannabis is caused by driving it underground where it is unregulated and run by violent organized criminals.
Instead of being sold by legitimate businesses where it can be regulated, taxed, and monitored, it is sold by criminals who use the money to expand illegal enterprises which require even more tax money and law enforcement personnel to combat them.
It’s an endless cycle.
Thailand’s law enforcements time, resources, and budgets are better spent on fighting crimes that have real victims.
When you see headlines like this in the media, you have to know something is wrong.
When you’re reduced to arresting the sick and elderly for growing a plant, it’s time to rethink your strategy.
As the famous comedian Bill Murray once said, “I find it quite ironic that the most dangerous thing about weed is getting caught with it.”
Reason #5: Legalization Creates Thai Jobs and Raises Tax Revenues
In 2019 California reported cannabis sales of almost USD 3 billion. Yet, California has only 60% of the population of Thailand.
The consulting firm, Cannabis Catalysts estimates the Thai market to be USD 2 billion by 2024.
Prohibition Partners estimates that the Thai market to be USD 661 million by 2024.
That may seem like a large range, but they use different prediction models. Some assume full legalization and another may only measure medical use. Some predict Thailand exporting cannabis and some only measure the domestic market.
Regardless, Thailand’s opportunity to generate tax revenue seems unquestioned.
Leafly estimates that the United States has generated 243,700 jobs in the cannabis industry.
Thailand also has an opportunity to be an exporter of cannabis. The country is already a major exporter of agricultural products. And it’s climate is well-suited to cannabis cultivation.
There is also a massive opportunity for Thailand as a cannabis tourist destination.
Cannabis tourism could become a major selling point and help keep the country as the leading tourism destination in the region.
Reason #6: Legalization Increases Product Safety
Thai law enforcement seizes tonnes of illegal cannabis every month. Most of it time, even when donated to researchers, it cannot be used in producing medical-grade products due to contamination.
Everything from chemicals in the soil used to grow the cannabis to pesticides and even mold and other bacterial growth can make the cannabis unsafe for human consumption.
This is a byproduct of a lack of enforceable quality standards and ignorance or ambivalence on the part of the growers.
If the Thai government were to legalize and regulate cannabis, it could ensure the quality of the products coming to the marketplace and lower the health risks to consumers of cannabis.
Farmers could be educated on how to properly grow cannabis without contaminants and quality assurance testing could keep harmful products from being introduced to consumers.
Buyers would know that they are getting the highest quality product and feel safer using cannabis in everything from food to medicines.
Reason #7: Recreational Marijuana is Less Harmful Than Alcohol
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Thailand’s alcohol consumption per capita has risen from almost none in 1960 to roughly 8.5 liters annually in 2001.
Of 183 countries ranked, Thailand is 40th in the world in terms of alcohol-related deaths per 100,000 people.
Alcohol is a toxin to the human body. A study published in the highly respected The Lancet asserts that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.
Potentially even worse than the consumption of alcohol itself, when the body metabolizes alcohol in an attempt to eliminate it from the body, it turns it into acetaldehyde, a chemical that is even more toxic than alcohol itself.
Let’s put it this way, the amount of acetaldehyde produced by our bodies in just one alcoholic drink would make any food product unfit for human consumption.
Sawaweed is not trying to say that alcohol should be banned. Heck, we enjoy a drink or two or three ourselves, but it’s quite obvious from all available research that alcohol is not good for us. It’s a harmful chemical, a toxin to the human body.
Meanwhile, cannabis’s main active ingredients are cannabinoids that your body already produces. It is virtually impossible to overdose on cannabis.
The most harmful aspect of cannabis consumption is typically the method of delivery. For instance, smoking cannabis irritates the lungs and can lead to respiratory illnesses.
For instance, consider these quotes:
“In strict medical terms marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume. For example, eating ten raw potatoes can result in a toxic response. By comparison, it is physically impossible to eat enough marijuana to induce death.”Francis L. Young – US Judge
“Unlike many of the drugs we prescribe every day, marijuana has never been proven to cause a fatal overdose.”Joycelyn Elders, MD, former US Surgeon General
What drug do you know, that has resulted in 0 overdose deaths, that is so highly regulated as cannabis? I can’t think of one.
Reason #8: Marijuana Is Not a Gateway Drug
There’s an old saying in science that “correlation does not imply causation.” Just because someone has used cannabis and then later uses other drugs does not imply that marijuana is a gateway drug.
This is a debunked argument that was used to justify the severe criminal penalties and the massive amount of money spent on the War on Drugs.
For example, in Japan, where marijuana use is relatively low compared to the US and Europe, 83 percent of hard drug users never smoked marijuana.
Cannabis doesn’t cause anyone to move on to more dangerous drugs. It’s that people that are prone to taking more dangerous drugs start by using inexpensive, readily available drugs (including nicotine and alcohol).
The “gateway drug” argument also fails to explain why the vast majority of people who use cannabis never graduate to harder drugs.
In many places where cannabis has been legalized, opiate use has declined. Cannabis is often used to help relieve withdrawal symptoms from harder drugs.
Ultimately, the Thai government should not fear that legalizing adult-use marijuana will lead to rampant drug abuse of harder drugs. Many US states that have legalized cannabis have shown no higher rates of harder drug addiction than states that continue to criminalize marijuana.
The “gateway drug” argument was flawed when it was originally introduced and has only been refuted by science ever since.
Reason #9: Legalization Has Not Materially Increased Teen Use In Other Countries
While it may be too early to draw any concrete conclusions but at least some studies seem to imply that teen cannabis use has decreased.
One possible reason for the decline in teen use may be because when cannabis is regulated medical clinics check IDs. Illegal drug dealers do not.
While it’s wise to remain cautious until there are longer and more extensive studies available, it does seem to put to bed the argument that legalization would cause a dramatic spike in teen usage.
Even when legalized there will always remain a black market as dealers undercut legal prices with untaxed cannabis. But, with less demand, drug dealers will become less common which would presumably increase the difficulty in obtaining cannabis illegally.
Reason #10: Legalization Has Not Resulted In Increased Road Fatalities In Other Countries
Much like with teen use after legalization, it may be too early to draw any hard conclusions, but most studies on traffic fatality rates seem to show that road fatalities initially increased but then reverted to the norm or declined.
Several interesting studies prove that marijuana-impaired drivers show declines in every functional area that researchers believe leads to impared driving.
However, cannabis users were far more likely to overestimate their impairment compared to those who were subject to alcohol impairment, who underestimated their level of impairment.
In other words, test subjects that were given marijuana thought they were far more impaired than the actual test results showed.
As a result, marijuana users who were then put behind the wheel of a vehicle or simulator attempted to overcompensate by driving more safely, increasing following distance behind other vehicles, and driving slower.
Alcohol-impaired drivers increased risk-seeking behavior which caused them to perform far worse on driving tests.
A study published in the US National Library of Medicine highlights these surprising findings.
This awareness of impairment has behavioral consequences. Several reviews of driving and simulator studies have concluded that marijuana use by drivers is likely to result in decreased speed and fewer attempts to overtake, as well as increased “following distance”. The opposite is true of alcohol. One review of eight driving simulator studies and seven on-road studies found that cannabis use was associated with either poor lane control or slower driving that successfully maintained lane control. In seven of ten studies cited, cannabis use was associated with a decrease in driving speed despite explicit instructions to maintain a particular speed, whereas, under the influence of alcohol, subjects consistently drove faster. Two simulator studies showed that the tendency to overtake was decreased with cannabis use but increased with alcohol. One simulator study and two on-road studies examining car-following behavior concluded that cannabis smokers tend to increase the distance between themselves and the car in front of them. Other studies have found no adverse effects of marijuana use on sign detection, a sudden lane-changing task, or the detection of and response to hazardous events.THE EFFECT OF CANNABIS COMPARED WITH ALCOHOL ON DRIVING – R. Andrew Sewell, MD, James Poling, PhD, and Mehmet Sofuoglu, MD, PhD
Of course, nobody should drive impaired and the purpose of citing the above studies is not to say that one type of impaired driver is better than another.
However, the mere fact that marijuana users overestimate their impairment while alcohol drinkers underestimate their impairment could lead to fewer marijuana-impaired drivers getting behind the wheel of a vehicle in the first place.
Similarly, it also seems to make sense that alcohol and marijuana are consumed differently.
Alcohol is often associated with social events and activities that often require driving to and from a specific location. Marijuana use tends to (but not exclusively) happen in more private settings.
Marijuana users (except in the case of edibles) tend to achieve peak intoxication within minutes of consuming it. Alcohol tends to sneak up on people over time (and increased consumption).
Someone that has smoked marijuana is likely to feel the high almost immediately and stop when they’ve achieved their desired level of high. They would then begin to become less high as the effects of the marijuana wore off.
Alcohol doesn’t have a sudden onset. A single drink is unlikely to impair the driver. Drinkers are likely to drink multiple drinks, each having a cumulative effect.
When the alcohol drinker gets behind the wheel, their BAC level may not have even peaked yet. The last drinks are still being digested and additional alcohol is entering the bloodstream.
There are plenty of good reasons why Thailand should consider further legalizing cannabis and expanding licenses to growers to increase product supply.
It benefits the economy, the Thai people with jobs and access to traditional medicine, law enforcement that can redirect their efforts towards crimes with greater societal impact, and tourists and expats who rely on cannabis for medical purposes and use marijuana recreationally.
And legalization in other countries provides a blueprint and that many of the feared negative outcomes are not as significant as feared or perhaps even non-existent.