The number of countries that have legalized cannabis continues to grow. Last month, South Korea became the first east Asian country to legalize marijuana for medical use. This week, we’ve learned that Thailand will also approve cannabis for research and medical purposes in what’s being called a “New Year’s gift” to the country’s citizens.
Asian countries have had very tough stances on marijuana over the years, so this is no small move for Thailand and other countries in the region could follow suit.
With a population of nearly 70 million people, Thailand is a massive market opportunity outside of North America. But whether we see any big companies looking to expand into Thailand or South Korea remains to be seen, as so far it has been Europe, Australia, and South America that have gotten most of the attention thus far. However, given the rate of progress we’ve seen over the past year in terms of cannabis legalization, many big companies may be waiting to see who else will legalize in the coming months before deciding on plans for expansion.
A few years ago it may have appeared impossible for strict Asian countries to possibly allow cannabis to be used, even medicinally. It’s just further proof of how strong the legalization movement has become, where even the most conservative places around the world have started to see the benefits of cannabis use.
Why we shouldn’t expect recreational pot legal anytime soon
Although this is big news and a big first step for the industry in Asia, cannabis users shouldn’t get too excited on the news. Thailand is pretty late to the game in terms of legalizing medical marijuana, and even though we’ve seen cannabis legalization make progress around the world, use of marijuana for recreational purposes hasn’t been nearly as welcome.
With just a few countries having legalized recreational use, the danger is that any country that does could be a target for cannabis tourists. While it may prove to be a good source of money for the country, places like Thailand would probably not want visitors coming mainly for the purposes of getting high.
It’s likely going to take several years at least, for countries like Thailand to even consider legalizing recreational use. Much of the world is going to likely look to Canada as a case study on recreational marijuana use, as it is now a few months past legalization and how it handles the new law and the consequences from it over the next few years will dictate how willing other countries will be in permitting cannabis for non-medical use.
Legalizing medical marijuana is significantly different than legalizing it for recreational purposes, and it’s a lot easier to justify. With very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), there is no high that is gained from medical use and it’s simply a matter of proving the science and showing that it can help treat patients. Recreational use, however, would involve the country allowing yet another substance into the mainstream that could be abused and would be a much tougher sell.