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In what its legislators are calling a “gift” to the country, Thailand has officially approved medical marijuana for usage and research. Recreational use will remain illegal. The move positions Thailand as the first Southeast Asian country to legalize cannabis use, which is significant, as the region maintains some of the harshest drug laws in the world.

The actual legislation the junta-appointed parliament voted on was an updating of Thailand’s Narcotic Act of 1979. A total of 166 members of the National Legislative Assembly voted in favor of the change, with no votes objecting effectively legalizing medical marijuana.

“This is a New Year’s gift from the National Legislative Assembly to the government and the Thai people,” said Somchai Sawangkarn, who was chairman of the drafting committee.

While countries across the world have legalized cannabis in some form this year, taboo stigmas are still pervasive in Southeast Asia. Those caught trafficking marijuana in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia can be subject to the death penalty.

However, Thailand had a tradition of using cannabis for pain relief and fatigue until the 1930s. The main controversy of cannabis legalization “involved patent requests by foreign firms that could allow them to dominate the market,” reports Reuters. This could block Thai patients from accessing the medicine while also limiting Thai researchers keen on studying the drug.

“We’re going to demand that the government revoke all these requests before the law takes effect,” Panthep Puapongpan, Dean of the Rangsit Institute of Integrative Medicine and Anti-Aging, told Reuters.

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