Kratom, a Thai plant traditionally used as a stimulant and painkiller, was also legalised.
A bill on same-sex civil partnerships is likely to require final approval from the next parliament that is due to sit after the general election scheduled for February 24. The measure was approved by the cabinet yesterday (Tuesday).
Somchai Sawangkarn, who chaired the drafting committee of the Narcotics Bill, said the amendment “could be considered as a new year gift to Thais”. “The amendment was passed the second and third readings and will become effective once it is published on the Royal Gazette,” he added.
The National Legislative Assembly’s 166 members voted in favour of the import, export, possession and use of cannabis and kratom with 13 abstentions, making Thailand the first Asean member to allow the use of medical marijuana.
Retailers, producers and researchers will need licences to handle the drugs and users require a prescription.
Public hearings showed overwhelming support for the measure.
The bill said numerous studies had shown cannabis extract had medicinal benefits, which prompted “many countries around the world to ease their laws by enacting legal amendments to allow their citizens to legally use kratom and marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes”.
Despite being classified as an illegal drug, the amendment said many patients use cannabis to treat ailments.
The legalisation process has been hampered by controversy involving patent requests by overseas firms that could allow overseas domination of the market, making it harder for Thai researchers to access pure extracts.
“We’re going to demand that the government revoke all these requests before the law takes effect,” said Panthep Puapongpan of the Rangsit Institute of Integrative Medicine and Anti-Ageing.
Other campaigners want recreational legalisation.
“This is the first baby step forward,” said Chokwan Chopaka from the Highland Network, which campaigns for full legalisation in Thailand.
A similar move on medical use is under consideration in Malaysia and New Zealand this month enacted a law liberalising the medical use of cannabis, which was previously tightly restricted.
The UK approved medical cannabis earlier this year and it became available last month from the National Health System to patients with a prescription.
Medication derived from cannabis became legal in Germany last year and medical marijuana is already permitted in Australia and Ireland.
Its medical use is legal in 30 American states, although the laws governing what is permitted vary between states.
Thailand’s junta is trying to boost the popularity of its political allies ahead of the February 24 election. Picture credit: Libreshot