BANGKOK, Thailand -- Medical marijuana and kratom became legal in
Thailand on February 18 after the king signed a royal decree allowing
doctors, patients, schools, farmers, entrepreneurs and exporters to
cultivate, possess and dispense both drugs.

The move raised hopes among many that it paves the way for legalizing
recreational marijuana soon.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn signed the medical law February 18, two
months after the military government's parliament unanimously approved
it, a legislative sequence required by the constitution.

The decree was published, as required, in the Royal Gazette and said
the Narcotics Act of 1979 was amended to make medical marijuana legal.

Patients with prescriptions can receive medical marijuana and kratom.
Farmers need a Narcotics Control Board permit.

Recreational use of both drugs is still illegal. Possession of illegal
cannabis is punishable by up to 15 years in jail under the amended

Most of Thailand's medical marijuana and kratom is initially expected
to be imported from the U.S., Canada, Israel and other nations which
have professional health standards for drug manufacturing.

Commercial medical-grade marijuana and kratom must be produced in
strictly controlled facilities which cost millions of dollars to
construct, staff and operate.

That makes it difficult for Thailand to quickly produce enough medical
marijuana or kratom to meet the needs of this country's Thai and
foreign patients.

Locally grown kratom plants are described as a way to boost energy,
lessen pain and depression, and possibly treat heroin addiction.

Every Thai adult could earn $13,000 a year from six personal marijuana
plants if the law is loosened to include recreational use, according
to Anutin Charnvirakul, an ambitious politician in next month's House
and prime ministerial elections.

Recreational marijuana would become Thailand's biggest cash crop, Mr.
Anutin said.

Predictions of big money recently convinced coup-installed Prime
Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to fast-track legalization for marijuana
and kratom -- initially for medical use only -- a move popular among

An election on March 24 for a new House of Representatives could
result in Mr. Prayuth extending his prime ministry which began when he
seized power by toppling an elected government in 2014.

Pro-democracy parties however hope to win enough House seats to form a
coalition against Mr. Prayuth. They may overcome his junta-nominated
Senate and select their own prime minister.

Mr. Anutin's modest-sized Bhum Jai Thai (BJT) party may join whoever
wins, so the BJT can enact its policies.

Mr. Anutin recently erected street signs illustrated by a bright green
marijuana leaf, informing voters about his party's campaign to
legalize both medical and recreational marijuana.

Mr. Anutin said Washington's "political propaganda" during the 1960s
and 70s tricked Thailand to believe marijuana was "addictive" because
thousands of U.S. troops were stationed at air bases in this Southeast
Asian country while bombing Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Some U.S. soldiers were getting blitzed on powerful local marijuana
known as "Thai Sticks".

"During the Vietnam war, the reason why the U.S. made the announcement
that marijuana was part of the narcotic drugs, was because once all
the [U.S.] soldiers consumed this kind of substance, they could sleep.
It made people calm down. It didn't make people become aggressive,"
Mr. Anutin said.

Mr. Anutin runs one of Thailand's biggest construction firms,
Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction, and directs other big
companies. He graduated with an engineering degree from New York's
Hofstra University.

He was speaking at a "Marijuana, For Money or Medicine?" panel at the
Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand on February 13.

"We have five types of commercial crops -- rice, palm [oil], rubber,
tapioca and sugar cane. Why don't we just add one more? The record
shows that this [marijuana] will override the first five" with bigger

His party studied "the 'California model' on this marijuana thing," to
learn about legalizing recreational cannabis.

Mr. Anutin tells voters he will amend the laws so "each household will
be able to grow six plants. Each plant will contribute one kilogram,
so each plant will earn 70,000 baht ($2,225).

"If you have six plants, that house will have 420,000 baht ($13,350)
per family. And when people [children] become mature, we can split the
family [so each adult child] can also grow another six plants."

Legal growing, selling and consuming of medical and recreational
marijuana should be similar to tobacco, which is controlled by the
Tobacco Authority of Thailand (TAOT) corporation, Mr. Anutin said.

Tobacco farmers must sell to the TAOT which produces cigarettes,
conducts research, determines quality, and works with the government
to prevent illegal tobacco trade.

"I always tell Mr. Anutin, he's going to bring back Thailand's main
[tourism] slogan, 'Land of Smiles'," said Thai entrepreneur Julpas
"Tom" Kruesopon.

Mr. Julpas is advising Mr. Anutin about marijuana's commercial
possibilities and was also on the media panel.

Previously, Mr. Julpas was former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's
adviser before Mr. Prayuth's coup ousted her government. Mr. Julpas
said he was former Los Angeles Major Richard Riordan's deputy press
secretary during the 1990s.

"Bhum Jai Thai is basically saying, 'Let's go ahead and do medical and
recreational at the same time'," Mr. Julpas said.

Mr. Anutin's party was "very concerned that if only medical
[marijuana] was approved in Thailand, the price of the medicine would
be so high because only a few [Thai facilities] will be able to
manufacture it," Mr. Julpas said.

"You might not know this, for all you foreigners here, if you visit a
Thai noodle shop, you've probably been having noodles with marijuana
for quite a while.

"We put marijuana into our food. That's why Thai food tastes so good."