BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand has built what's described as the
biggest industrial-scale medical marijuana facility in Southeast Asia
with 12,000 plants, and will soon allow everyone to grow six cannabis
plants "in their back gardens like any other herb."

Recreational use remains illegal with punishments including
imprisonment. Enthusiasts hope the disappearing resistance to
marijuana's medical use will result in looser laws for public
enjoyment and business profits.

Those changes appear to be gaining momentum.

Government officials on September 2  attended a ceremony in northern
Thailand's Chiang Mai where Maejo University researchers planted
12,000 new marijuana sprouts.

The promising shoots are inside a newly built 32,722-square-foot
(3,040-square-meter) greenhouse with controls for temperature,
moisture and light.

Seeds for the 12,000 plants were provided by the government's
Department of Medical Service.

Officials expect the plants will produce medical-grade cannabis
flowers and buds within six months.

The Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) hopes to use those
ingredients to make one million bottles of cannabis oil, each
containing five milliliters, by February 2020.

"These are historic first steps on the path towards allowing people to
grow six cannabis trees in their homes," said newly appointed Health
Minister Anutin Charnvirakul. "In the near future, families will be
able to plant it in their back gardens like any other herb.

"The university will be a center where ordinary people can learn how
to plant and grow good quality cannabis.  Cannabis is not an issue of
politics, it is a product that can benefit people's health," he said,
planting a sprout while wearing a white lab coat.

Mr. Anutin led his small, newly formed Bhumjai Thai (Proud to be Thai)
party's campaign earlier this year during parliamentary elections by
promising each household could grow six plants.

By selling each mature plant to the government for $2,225, a family
could earn $13,350 for all six, he told voters.

Foreign experts warn not every plant produces medical-grade cannabis,
and the ones that do are difficult to raise.

Amateurs could produce average weed, but without investing money and
taking time to tend to the plants, those crops would not qualify for
the government to purchase for medical use.

If recreational marijuana is allowed, then private growers could
profit easier because quality requirements would be less strict.

Mr. Anutin predicted fully legalized marijuana would be a bigger and
more lucrative crop for Thailand than rice, sugarcane, tapioca, rubber
or other produce.

Thailand's low wages would boost its ability to compete in
international markets against big foreign cannabis companies where
operating costs are higher.

Potential up-and-coming rivals in Latin America, Africa and elsewhere
in Asia however could outgrow Thailand which would need to create
niche strains to sell abroad, foreign experts said.

Maejo University reportedly developed a marijuana strain it calls
"Issara" (Independence).  It offers equal percentages of cannabidiol
(CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Future strains will offer differing percentages of CBD and THC to
treat illnesses and symptoms requiring other ratios.

Officials hope more Thai universities, labs, agricultural experts and
botanists will produce additional local strains.

"We have plans to extend the cannabis-growing to outdoor areas too,
which is likely to be suitable for the local strains that are found in
many parts of the country," director of the Maejo Natural Farming
Research and Development Center said, according to the Bangkok Post.

At least 13 hospitals have reportedly received licenses to dispense
cannabis extracts to patients with prescriptions.

A classroom inside a hospital in Pranchin Buri recently began teaching
the public how to grow medical-grade marijuana.

"This training course consists of both classroom lectures and
practical sessions in closed-farming plots," Chaophraya Abhaibhubejhr
Hospital's director Namphol Danpipat said on September 17.

"We aim to provide students with optimal growing techniques that will
yield the best quality cannabis for medical purposes," Mr. Namphol
said according to local media.

The training course was titled: "Medical Cannabis Organic Farming for
Agriculturists and the General Public."

Teachers will instruct students how patients can use CBD and THC, how
to prevent fungus and pest damage, and what government regulations
must be obeyed to produce marijuana for medical use.

Thais have been growing weed for hundreds of years for traditional
purposes for illnesses, relaxation, recipes and entertainment. Strict
medical quality is a new concept.

Thailand's legendary, mind-bending "Thai Sticks" strain of illegal
weed was hailed among the U.S. and international counterculture during
the 1960s and 70s. But it was rarely developed into better strains
with varying percentages of ingredients.

Countless other strains have been developed during recent years in the
U.S., Canada, Europe and other foreign countries.

As a result, Thailand trails far behind other countries where medical
and recreational marijuana has been legalized and developed to produce
an array of foreign strains with CBD and THC levels suitable for
medical use.

"Most Thai marijuana strains contain more THC than CBD, which makes
them more suitable for recreational use," GPO director Withoon
Danwiboon said in May.

Concerned about foreign competition, Thailand approved a $4 million
budget in August to expand government-controlled marijuana farms for
medical purposes.

Last month, Thailand announced that its first relatively small
pharmaceutical laboratory produced CBD and THC oils, tablets, oral
sprays, chocolate wafers and traditional potions for medical use. They
proudly displayed the lab's tiny garden of 72 plants.