Southeast Asia, a region of 11 countries and some 680 million people, has long been infamous for having the strictest anti-drug laws in the world. But in a sign that regional leaders are mulling a new approach, Thailand became the first country in Asia last week to decriminalize marijuana for medical and other purposes. Smoking weed for fun is still illegal, Thai’s health minister clarified to CNN, but he expects legal cannabis production to boost the economy. Over 3,000 inmates incarcerated in Thai prisons for marijuana-related offenses were also freed.
This, coupled with changes to Thailand’s Narcotics Code last December to include alternatives to imprisonment for drug offenders, are signs that the country is slowly abandoning its strict drug policies, says Gloria Lai, regional director of the International Drug Policy Consortium. Lai tells TIME that Thailand’s government has recognized the problem of locking up so many people, most of them poor, for low-level offenses.
Thailand has the largest prison population among ASEAN countries—some 285,000 people—and more than 80% of inmates are there on drug-related charges. There are major issues of overcrowding at Thai prisons.
The business of legalizing marijuana
Economic benefits are also propelling Thailand’s reforms. The country has a climate conducive to growing cannabis and an established medical tourism industry. Martin Jelsma, director of the Drugs & Democracy project at the Transnational Institute (TNI) in Amsterdam, says the legalization will likely end the illegal trafficking of marijuana into Thailand, particularly from Laos.
“The hope is that Thai farmers and local companies will be able to benefit from the rapidly booming international medical cannabis market, but it will be a huge challenge to compete with established Canadian, U.S., and European companies who have already captured a large part of that global market,” …read more
Source:: Time – World