Could Medical Cannabis Help With Asia’s Opium Crisis?

My Own Experience In Thailand

I hopped on the bus to Myanmar (Burma) from the metro station in Chiang Mai, Thailand excited to see the country side around the infamous Golden Triangle of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. The region has had a very dark history of drug production trafficking, namely opium. This has caused massive conflict in the region, namely in Myanmar where a civil war still brews in the Northern provinces near China.

One of the sad realities is that farmers can generate about 20x the income growing opium than they can coffee, rice or any other legal commodity. This leads many farmers to grow opium, becoming the logistical starting point of a seed to sale process. This has also lead to widespread opium addiction in the region, more and more non profits and rehab centers have been opening up in the area, but the issue is still quite dire.

In Chiang Mai, Thailand, a 6 hour drive from the Myanmar border there is a very a strong recovery scene. I spent 3 months in the city and met many people who came to the region from other parts of the world to heal. The government has made an effort to try and mitigate many of the drug related issues that plague the region.

On my bus ride to Myanmar we kept getting stopped by military police. The first couple times I thought they might be after a specific person. My visa was expiring soon and I was worried when they checked my passport they may get suspicious and haul me off the bus. They were strapped with large machine guns and carried no smiles.

After the 3rd or 4th time we were pulled over it became clear they weren’t looking for someone, or for tourists overstaying their visa, they were looking for drugs. They went into the compartments of the bus to search through bags, had drug sniffing dogs and individually talked to nearly everyone on the bus, to get a feel for the person and see if they thought something was suspicious.

Chiang Mai sits on the main drug transport route from Myanmar down to Bangkok where it gets exported throughout Asia and the rest of the world.

Legalizing Medical Cannabis

Thailand recently legalized medical cannabis, which could be a step in the right direction. Not only to help fight the opium addiction epodemic, take control away from the mafia if the product gets legalized recreationally, but also to give the farmers a more profitable crop to grow.

The National Farmers Council of Thailand commended the legislation as providing a”new financial harvest” to assist farmers diversify their creation.

“I anticipate Thailand will make 100 billion baht annually (US$3.07 billion) from developing cannabis and promoting the raw material along with cannabis oil,” chairman Prapat Panyachartrak told AFP.

However, some fear overseas businesses and pharmaceutical giants are able to scoop up precious patents to generate the medical cannabis and extracts.

Those holding the patents may prevent Thai universities and government agencies from conducting study, cautioned Witoon Liamchamroon, manager of BioThai, a community of agricultural activists, professors and farmers.

The Commerce Ministry had sworn to”reverse” the petitions of overseas firms, he explained,”but so far, we assessed and there’s absolutely not any revocation.”

“Otherwise Thai individuals won’t receive any advantages… since the patent legislation is retroactive when the law takes effect,” he told AFP. Thailand has a very long background with cannabis. The plant was classified as a traditional herb before it had been re-categorised as a narcotic in the 1970s — that banned its creation, consumption, sale and ownership.

It remains easily available despite high fines for people caught smoking .

However, Buntoon, that founded the Network of Cannabis Users in Thailand at 2013, said marijuana was used in over a hundred formulations of Thai traditional medicine.

“I’ve used cannabis for at least 50 decades,” he told AFP. “Cigarettes and whisky are harmful to your health.”

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