Thailand is set to decriminalise cannabis starting on Thursday, the first such move in Asia, as it seeks to grab a slice of a growing market for marijuana-infused food and medicinal cannabis treatments. It will no longer be a crime to grow and trade marijuana and hemp products, a move aimed at bolstering the country’s crucial agriculture and tourism sectors. However, prospects for the Thai cannabis trade will be limited by the country’s ban on recreational use and the production of anything with more than 0.2 per cent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound that gives users a “high” sensation. What’s behind the move? Thailand, a conservative, Buddhist-majority country also known for tough policies on drug trafficking and curbs on alcohol, began liberalising its cannabis laws in 2018 with the legalisation of medical marijuana. The latest step to allow more people to grow cannabis was spearheaded by tycoon-turned politician Anutin Charnvirakul, who believes that controlled legalisation of marijuana can boost agriculture and tourism. The deputy prime minister, who heads the health ministry, campaigned on a promise to legalise household marijuana and hemp cultivation to allow farmers to supplement their incomes. What does decriminalisation mean? It will no longer be a crime to use parts of the marijuana and hemp plants, which belong to the cannabis plant family. Companies and individual farmers will be allowed to cultivate the plants in farms and gardens. Clinics across the nation can offer medical marijuana to treat various illnesses, and restaurants can serve cannabis-infused dishes and drinks with less than 0.2 per cent THC. However, extracts containing more than 0.2 per cent THC are still against the law. Recreational use is still banned. Anyone found smoking marijuana for recreation will be subject to lengthy jail terms and fines. Thailand’s small-time growers lobby to be part of medical marijuana sector For centuries, Thais used cannabis in traditional medicine to relieve pain and fatigue. The country can claim some natural advantages, including a year-round tropical climate which means less need for artificial light and costly temperature controls. Thailand was known as a cultivator of cannabis and producer of marijuana in the 1970s and 1980s, before the government cracked down in cooperation with the US war on drugs. Thailand’s Health Ministry plans to distribute a million plants free of cost to households. Restaurants, clinics Restaurants serving cannabis-laced dishes and clinics offering medical marijuana treatments are all expecting more business, particularly from foreign visitors once the pandemic ends and global tourism resumes. Meat producer Charoen Pokphand Foods Pcl, natural rubber maker Sri Trang Agro-Industry Pcl and seafood producer Thai Union Pcl have all expressed interest in investing in the cannabis industry. Eastern Spectrum Group, which grows hemp, offers a variety of cannabinoid solutions. Thai farmers and companies can start planting cannabis without the fear of arrests and lengthy jail terms. All they need to do is upload details of their plans on the nation’s health ministry website or on an app developed by the Food and Drug Administration. The next step in the cannabis liberalisation process is expected to be the approval of recreational use. While that may still be some years away, advocates for broader legalisation are proposing a so-called cannabis sandbox, a limited area where recreational use is allowed. Such a feature is expected to boost Thailand’s tourism, and Phuket, Krabi and Koh Samui have been suggested as possible locations. Proponents say such an initiative, possibly in tandem with legalised casinos currently under discussion, could draw billions of dollars in tourist spending.