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While most Asian nations continue enforcing strict drug laws, Thailand has emerged as a pioneer in the continent in the medical cannabis field.

Slowly but surely, the Thai nation is embracing the use of medical cannabis as millions of people start to change their views. It may eventually become mainstream, though that will take a while. In the meantime, we can look forward to “happy food” on the menu alongside its iconic fiery dishes.

It all starts at the Prachin Buri province at the Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital, where a restaurant began serving up their version of happy meals not long after the Kingdom de-listed the drug as a narcotic. “Cannabis leaves, when put in the food or even a small amount… it will help the patient to recover faster from illness,” explains Pakakrong Kwankao, the hospital’s project leader. “The cannabis leaf can improve appetite and make people sleep well, and also be in a mood, in a good mood,” he says.

The hospital has made a name for itself in the local medical community as one of the first to study cannabis and its therapeutic effects especially on fatigue and pain. Some of the items on the menu include happy pork soup, crispy cannabis leaf salad, deep-fried bread with pork and a cannabis leaf on the side.

According to Kanokwan Vilawan, the Thai deputy education minister, they will soon be offering cannabis dishes that would appeal to an international audience. “We plan to add more cannabis to Thai dishes that are already well known, such as green curry soup, to boost the popularity of these dishes even more,” he says.

The Status of Cannabis in Thailand

Back in 2017, Thailand became the first nation in Southeast Asia to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. Since then, several MMJ clinics have sprouted around the nation. But the Thai people are no strangers to the benefits of cannabis; historically, it’s been used already for thousands of years by the locals to treat fatigue and pain.

It is also coming in handy during the pandemic, which has beaten global economies to a pulp most especially the tourism sector, of which Thailand is heavily reliant on. They will eventually promote cannabis not just in food but also in cosmetics as they try to attract foreign tourists. Recently, the Health and Education ministries came into an agreement that will foster the development of a module sharing recipes and techniques on how to produce cannabis products.

A Bloomberg report states that these courses will only be available at schools located in areas that have been authorized to grow the plant initially. Health Minister Anutin Charnivirakul says that these uses of the plant will help boost the tourism and agriculture industries which were affected by COVID-19. The cannabis curriculum will be made to “meet market demand, be legal, modern, safe and beneficial to the health and economy,” he says.

“Once the country is opened, these will be the new must-taste dishes that everyone will want to try,” explains Anutin.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration secretary general Paisarn Dunkum adds that the plant’s roots, stems, stalks and leaves will no longer be part of the Type 5 drug list. But this would not include the flowers, which are known for its high psychoactive content, and individuals will not be allowed to cultivate hemp or cannabis for their own use. But starting January 29, government offices, legal entities, community enterprises, and individuals will be allowed to register in order to use certain parts of the plant for medicinal purposes as well as those in the cosmetics, pharmaceutical, and textile industries.

These are also part of the government’s mission to promote cannabis as a new lucrative crop.

Last August, deputy government spokeswoman Traisuree Taisaranakul disclosed to the media following a cabinet meeting that there were proposed amendments that would eventually allow medical professionals, businesses, and patients to import, export, produce, and sell cannabis. “The law will promote the pharmaceutical industry and increase competitiveness, which will be important for Thailand in becoming a leader in medical cannabis,” said Charnvirakul.

Elsewhere In Asia

While Thailand is the only Asian nation showing any signs of progress for medicinal cannabis, the rest of the continent lags behind. Historically speaking, Thailand as well as Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam have been notorious for harsh punishments and even the death penalty for drug-related crimes. Though with the exception of Thailand, some of these countries have introduced minor reforms yet they continue to slay drug criminals.

The legal cannabis market in Thailand has the potential to be worth $661 million come 2024, but if the rest of Asia catches up, it could be worth a cool $5.8 billion, says the Asia Cannabis Report.

But even if the rest of the countries follow suit quickly, what will take a lot of hard work is breaking down the stigma that is associated with cannabis use. Sadly, the taboo is still widespread, and the public need to be educated. Asian governments need to work closely with medical professionals and campaigners to break the stereotypes of cannabis in order to convince the general public that there is nothing wrong with legalizing marijuana whether for medical or recreational purposes. Eventually once the pandemic calms down, it will help increase investment poured towards cannabis and tourism, and more people could be traveling to these countries to sample cannabis tourism.

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