Thailand is giving away 1 million free cannabis plants to households across the country in a bid to boost its medical marijuana industry – but is discouraging people from using them recreationally just a day after the country decriminalised marijuana growth.
On Thursday, the country warned that recreational use would continue to be illegal and told citizens on Friday they could still face harsh penalties for breaking the law.
“Don’t use it and sit smiling at home and not get any work done. Those things are not our policies,” said Thailand’s health minister Anutin Charnvirakul in the northeastern Buriram province, where the first 1,000 cannabis plants were being distributed, reported Reuters.
Mr Anutin said tough penalties will still apply to those who use the drug to get high and warned against smoking joints, reported local media.
The health minister was also quoted by CNN as saying that he expected legal cannabis production to boost the economy but added that “we still have regulations under the law that control the consumption, smoking or use of cannabis products in non-productive ways”.
Those found violating the law shall face punishments in place under the Public Health Act, including up to three months in jail and an $800 (£650) fine for smoking cannabis in public.
“We [have always] emphasised using cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical purposes and for health,” the health minister said. “There has never once been a moment that we would think about advocating people to use cannabis in terms of recreation – or use it in a way that it could irritate others.”
The country became the first in Asia to legalise cannabis for medical use in 2018.
He added: “If [tourists] come for medical treatment or come for health-related products then it’s not an issue but if you think that you want to come to Thailand just because you heard that cannabis or marijuana is legal ... [or] come to Thailand to smoke joints freely, that’s wrong ... don’t come. We won’t welcome you if you just come to this country for that purpose.”
With about a third of its labour force involved in agriculture, Thailand has been trying to promote marijuana as a cash crop for some time.
Local media said the distribution of cannabis plants will allow residents to grow medical-grade marijuana for personal use or as part of a small-scale commercial enterprise. However, large-scale businesses will still require government permits.
It was reported that growing cannabis at home in Thailand requires registration with the government’s smartphone app called PlookGanja.
Mr Anutin said more than 300,000 people had registered with the app, which had millions of downloads from people wanting to learn more about cannabis.
With additional reporting from agencies