Plant giveaway promotes Thailand's medical marijuana sector

Thailands Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, center, takes selfies with people holding their marijuana plants during the distribution of 1 million free marijuana seedlings in the northeastern province of Buriram, Thailand, Friday, June 10, 2022. The government distribution plan of the recently legalized crop is an efforts to jumpstart the countrys medical marijuana industry, expected to create an economic windfall. (Matichon Newspaper via AP) (Uncredited)

BANGKOK – Thailand’s health minister kicked off a marijuana giveaway Friday, handing out the first 100 seedlings of a planned distribution of 1 million plants a day after the country legalized cultivation and possession of the drug.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who has been the driving force behind legalization, presided over the giveaway at a fair and exhibition held in the northeastern province of Buriram, a stronghold of his Bhumjai Thai party.

Anutin has touted growing marijuana, also called cannabis, as a way to increase farmers’ incomes.

His party draws heavily on the support of low-income farmers in the largely agricultural northeast. He was cheered by a crowd of thousands as he gave a speech taking credit for legalizing marijuana, which he said would bring financial benefits to “individual growers, community farmers (and) entrepreneurs.”

His party said more than 350,000 households have already registered as cannabis growers.

Officials said the 1 million plants will be distributed nationwide through the Agriculture Department’s regional offices over the next six months to promote marijuana cultivation.

The government insists that officially, only medical marijuana has been legalized. Despite that, there are no plans for serious monitoring of small-scale cultivation and sales, so at least in the privacy of one’s home there appears to be no reason to believe a person can get into trouble for recreational smoking.

Officials have warned, however, that smoking in public will be frowned upon and subject to possible fines. Regulations are expected to be issued for marijuana similar to those for cigarettes and alcohol, such as minimum age requirements for purchasing and restricting driving under the influence.