Thailand's cabinet approved amendments on Tuesday to its narcotics act to allow private production and sale of marijuana for medical use, officials said
With a tradition of using the leaf to relieve pain and fatigue, Thailand became the first Southeast Asian nation to legalize marijuana in 2017 for medical use and research, but only the government was allowed to grow plants.
Deputy government spokeswoman Traisuree Taisaranakul told reporters after a cabinet meeting that the proposed amendments would also allow patients, businesses and medical professionals to produce, export, import and sell the leaf.
"The law will promote the pharmaceutical industry and increase competitiveness, which will be important for Thailand in becoming a leader in medical cannabis," Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul also told reporters.
Thailand has dropped cannabis extracts from its narcotics list and opened medical marijuana clinics.
Cannabis still remains a category five drug under Thai law, however, and illegal possession is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and fines of up to 1.5 million baht ($48,000).
The amendments are to be sent for legal review before going to the Thai parliament.
While countries from Colombia to Canada have legalized marijuana for medical or even recreational use, the drug remains illegal and taboo across much of Southeast Asia, which has some of the world’s harshest punishments for drug law violations.
Marijuana traffickers can be subject to the death penalty in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.