Draconian Power to Legalize Medical Marijuana
Buddhist-majority Thailand is about to become the
first Southeast Asian nation to legalize medical marijuana, hoping its
traditional secretive potions, stoner "Thai Sticks," inexpensive
quality health care and export marketeers will rescue patients and
produce award-winning cash crops.
Thailand's coup-installed junta leader is so
enthusiastic, he is using
draconian powers to defend Thai marijuana products from foreign
patents which have been applied for in Bangkok to monopolize future
During the 1960s and 70s, American hippies
and other smokers described
powerful Thai-grown marijuana as "Thai Sticks" because a small amount
was illegally sold skewered on a slender, pencil-long, wooden stick
the way grilled street food is offered here.
still illegal with long prison sentences meted out
possession, sales and smuggling.
Thailand is used for a monthly Full Moon Party on
Phangan, where thousands of mostly young foreign tourists drink
buckets of beer, smoke Thai weed or drop ecstasy and dance until dawn
on the island's beach.
cities, people gossip about discreet parties in posh
where international professionals and wealthy Thais smoke grass, drink
expensive whiskeys, and feast on fine food while discussing world
At some hip
entertainment venues where tobacco is allowed
marijuana's scent occasionally mingles in the air.
Elsewhere, bikini-clad bar girls sometimes invite
foreign customers to
smoke upstairs with them in bars' darkened cubicles for spaced-out
woman said she panicked while walking out of a seedy
when she saw two policemen walking in after she purchased a small
A European man said police
caught him smoking in his parked car and,
terrified, he opened his wallet and allowed them to take a $600 bribe.
In winding backstreets, impoverished workers
wearing ragged clothes
sometimes share a smoke while waiting to hoist heavy sacks of rice or
pull carts laden with construction debris.
Marijuana is much less popular
among Thais compared with their
voracious appetite for illegal methamphetamines.
Each year, massive busts in
Thailand net millions of pills
manufactured and smuggled throughout the region.
The majority of Thais obey drug
laws, but their cultural interests are
changing, influenced by hip-hop, Hollywood and Internet.
example, relatively rich Thais buy expensive tickets to
outdoor music festivals where Thai rock groups perform for a few days
amid tie-dye fashions, peace signs, psychedelic posters and other
nostalgic hippie themes.
In Bangkok, long-haired, tattooed Thais joined a
November rally for
legalization, holding signs which included in broken English:
"Cannabis change world!"
Thai media occasionally flashes a marijuana leaf
or an inside trippy
joke in shops' advertisements, news headlines and other surprising
cooks sometimes mix loose, dried weed into spicy
soups if a familiar customer asks for something to relieve a headache
or other pains.
medical marijuana's legalization, the
Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) reportedly invested $3.6 million to
create a marijuana plantation for research and development.
"It can kill people if we
can't allow the use of cannabis for medical
treatment to save lives," GPO chairman Dr. Sophon Mekthon told a
"Marijuana is Thailand's future cash
crop," Commerce Minister Sontirat
Sontijirawong said in November.
This rapidly modernizing country is still mostly
investors are also planning exports.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's military
government is moving
swiftly to protect patents before loosening the 1979 Narcotics Act to
legalize marijuana for medical use.
"I am writing a new order under Section 44," Mr. Prayuth said on November 26.
Section 44 in the
regime's 2014 constitution gives Mr. Prayuth "the
powers to make any order" to maintain security, stop threats to
"national economics," and control other situations "inside or outside"
Mr. Prayuth led
Thailand's U.S.-trained military in a bloodless 2014
coup and, under Section 44, his absolute powers overrule "legislative,
executive or judicial" branches of government.
His tackling of marijuana-related patents came
after Thais voiced
fears of being blocked from local research and losing massive profits.
The Department of
Intellectual Property has received patent
applications from foreign companies for THC-derived products which
could be made or sold in Thailand, and the department is considering
how to proceed.
indicated careful study is required so his solution
not infringe local or international laws.
Patent Act of 1979 forbids patents on "animals, plants
extracts from animals or plants," including "extracts from animals or
plants that have not undergone any man-made substantial processing."
Patent attorney San
Chaithiraphant said, "In the case of cannabis,
this means that the cannabis plant, including its stem, flower, leaf
and crude extracts, is not patentable.
"If a human
brings a natural thing to be processed by technical
and produces results and benefits that are not found in the natural
state of that thing, then that processed natural thing may be
patented," Mr. San wrote in an analysis published on November 22.
Only marijuana's "use" can be patented, not its substances, Mr. San said.
"We will then cultivate the plant...so Thai people
can have affordable
access to good medicine," said Government Pharmaceutical Organization
director Withoon Danwiboon.
Inexpensive medical care is a winning issue
among Thais, and medical
marijuana legalization is hugely popular, according to published
including Rangsit University's Pharmacy College want
to experiment with extracts to treat nausea, neuropathy, epilepsy,
multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, severe pain and other
Health Ministry and the Institute of Thai
Medicine want to test marijuana's abilities in scores of formulas
which date back hundreds of years and include boiling the plant or
distilling it in alcohol and mixing it with other herbs.
"This does not mean people
are allowed to grow marijuana in the
backyards," warned government spokesman Buddhipongse Punnakanta on
"It will still be under control."
Officials hoped to
use huge caches of seized illegal marijuana no
longer needed as evidence -- instead of having to grow their own.
Illegal crops however were found to be tainted. So
needs to plant and harvest marijuana in controlled environments.
"We have to prevent marijuana
from being contaminated by chemicals or
insecticides," said Narcotics Control Board secretary-general Niyom
While many people hope recreational use will soon be legal, that may take years.
"This is not
the time to allow people to smoke pot and laugh all
Mr. Prayuth said on October 31, rejecting immediate total legalization
for what Thais call "ganja."
Disappointed enthusiasts say recreational use
would profit the country
by attracting more international tourists who could get high and enjoy
Thailand's gorgeous beaches, exquisite cuisine, sensual spas, sexy
nightlife and other hedonistic thrills.
Richard S. Ehrlich is
a Bangkok-based journalist from San
California, reporting news from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia
University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He co-authored three
non-fiction books about Thailand, including "'Hello My Big Big Honey!'
Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews," "60
Stories of Royal Lineage," and "Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News
Since 1946." Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the chapter "Ceremonies
and Regalia" in a book published in English and Thai titled, "King
Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in
Perspective." Mr. Ehrlich's newest book, "Sheila Carfenders, Doctor
Mask & President Akimbo" portrays an American 22-year-old female
mental patient who is abducted to Asia by her abusive San Francisco
His online sites are: