Thailand is poised to become the first country in Asia to legalize medicinal marijuana as it bids to cash in on a burgeoning global market.

Back in the 1980s the country was one of the world’s largest cannabis exporters, but a government clampdown has seen thousands of Thais sent to prison. Yet several influential government forces now recognize the economic potential of a regulated cannabis industry. The Ministry of Public Health has tried to persuade the military government to approve a study into weed so that it can be marketed for medicinal purposes, and it appears to have enjoyed a breakthrough.

Jet Sirathraanon, the public health committee chair of Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly, told AFP that a draft bill that would legalize medicinal marijuana is now under consideration. The political machinations are evidently moving rapidly and Public Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn is now expected to sign the bill into law on Nov. 9, rolling out a legal industry for CBD and other derivatives.

Thailand’s Food and Drug Agency secretary-general Tares Krassanairawiwong said the agency has extensively studied cannabis from a legislative and an academic standpoint, adding that it’s convinced by its medicinal properties. Deputy Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has said that short-term measures to get the ball rolling will begin as soon as December as Thailand bids to regain its crown as the global leader in cannabis from Canada.

Southeast Asia has some of the strictest anti-cannabis laws in the world and Malaysia only just abolished the death penalty for marijuana smugglers. Neighbouring countries hand out life sentences to people illegally trafficking cannabis, and Thailand’s decision could have huge ramifications in the region as it might convince other countries to abandon their draconian approach and cash in on a multibillion-dollar global industry instead.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong authorities have quashed hopes that the city could become a gateway into the Chinese market for the cannabis industry. Israeli firm iCAN has just hosted a Cannabis Investor Symposium at the W Hotel in West Kowloon, where 200 investors paid $1,000 each to attend. It led the Hong Kong Free Press to ask whether Hong Kong is poised to become the marijuana investment capital of Asia, as iCAN chief executive Saul Kaye hopes.

But authorities gave that notion short shrift, warning that anyone dealing cannabis was committing a serious crime, while Hong Kong police reminded citizens on its website of the potential long-term health risks associated with cannabis use.

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