BANGKOK — Thailand has inaugurated what is being billed as the biggest industrial-scale medical marijuana facility in Southeast Asia with 12,000 plants, and will soon allow anyone to grow six cannabis plants “in their back gardens like any other herb.”
Recreational use of marijuana in Thailand remains illegal, with punishments including imprisonment. But pot enthusiasts — domestic and foreign — hope the fading resistance to marijuana’s medical use will result in looser laws for public enjoyment and business profits.
Those changes appear to be gaining momentum.
Government officials last week attended a ceremony in Chiang Mai, a northern city where Maejo University researchers planted the 12,000 marijuana sprouts. The shoots are nurtured inside a newly built 32,722-square-foot greenhouse with controls for temperature, moisture and light. The government’s Department of Medical Services provided the seeds.
Officials expect the plants will produce medical-grade cannabis flowers and buds within six months.
The Government Pharmaceutical Organization hopes to use those ingredients to make 1 million bottles of cannabis oil, each containing 5 milliliters, by February.
“These are historic first steps on the path towards allowing people to grow six cannabis trees in their homes,” said newly appointed Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul. “In the near future, families will be able to plant it in their back gardens like any other herb.
“The university will be a center where ordinary people can learn how to plant and grow good quality cannabis,” said Mr. Anutin, sporting a white lab coat. “Cannabis is not an issue of politics; it is a product that can benefit people’s health.”
Mr. Anutin led his small, newly formed Bhumjaithai (Proud to be Thai) party’s campaign this year during parliamentary elections by promising that each household could grow six plants. By selling the mature plants to the government for $2,225 each, a family could earn $13,350 for all six, he told voters.
Mr. Anutin predicted fully legalized marijuana would be a bigger and more lucrative crop for Thailand than rice, sugar cane, tapioca, rubber or other agricultural staples. Thailand’s marijuana strains have a global reputation for quality and potency, but recent governments were nervous about reopening the door to cultivation on a broad scale.
Thailand’s low wages would boost its ability to compete in international markets against big foreign cannabis companies. But potential rivals in Latin America, Africa and elsewhere in Asia may force Thailand to create “niche” strains to export, analysts said.
Maejo University reportedly developed a marijuana strain it calls Issara (Independence). It offers equal percentages of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Future strains will offer differing percentages of CBD and THC to treat illnesses and symptoms requiring other ratios.
“We have plans to extend the cannabis-growing to outdoor areas too, which is likely to be suitable for the local strains that are found in many parts of the country,” Arnat Tancho, director of the Maejo Natural Farming Research and Development Center told the Bangkok Post last week.
At least 13 hospitals have reportedly received licenses to dispense cannabis extracts to patients with prescriptions.
The country’s legendary, mind-bending “Thai Sticks” strain of illegal weed was hailed by U.S. and international counterculture connoisseurs during the 1960s. But Thailand now trails far behind other countries where medical and recreational marijuana have been legalized and where strains with CBD and THC levels suitable for medical use have been refined.
Concerned about foreign competition, Thailand approved a $4 million budget in August to expand government-controlled marijuana farms for medical purposes.
Last month, Thailand announced that its first relatively small pharmaceutical laboratory produced CBD and THC oils, tablets, oral sprays, chocolate wafers and traditional potions for medical use. They proudly displayed the lab’s tiny garden of 72 plants.