It is now possible to produce, sell and consume kratom leaves, but not the concentrates. The opiate has been traditionally used in rural areas. The decision comes after a bitter debate in a country where drug use is severely punished. The COVID-19-related crisis in agriculture also affected the decision.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Kratom leaves (Mitragyna speciosa), an opiate-type plant typical of Southeast Asia, has been widely used in Thailand, especially in rural areas. Now it has become legal.
The Thai parliament began examining the issue back in January when lawmakers looked at decriminalising the use of other banned substances like medical marijuana.
The bill legalising the leaves became law in May after receiving the royal consent, and entered in force today, despite a bitter debate that pitted various factions, and various economic, health and moral arguments over “soft” drugs in a country where drug use is severely punished even though it is widespread.
The authorities gave the green light only to the use of kratom leaves, not other parts of the plant. The leaves also cannot be given to minors or pregnant women, nor be sold near schools or temples, and exports must be regulated.
In announcing today kratom’s immediate removal from the list of banned narcotics, Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin explained that while producing, selling, and consuming the leaves will be allowed, kratom concentrates remain banned.
Liberalisation is taking place in a particular socio-sanitary context in which many call for the use of traditional pharmacopoeia to prevent or counteract COVID-19 or at least its effects.
In addition, against the backdrop of a persistent economic crisis and high unemployment, kratom growing, although a relatively marginal activity, can provide an income to producers.
This is the case for many farmers, often unable to repay easily granted loans because of a major drop in sales and exports of their products.
For Thailand’s justice system, decriminalisation also brings easily quantifiable benefits.
One immediate effect will be the release of individuals detained for using and marketing the substance.
“A total of 1,038 prisoners being detained for trading or consuming kratom will be released and the cases of some 10,000 individuals in police detention or facing legal action will be dismissed,” Minister Thepsuthin said.
Thai courts will thus save almost US$ 60 millions a year. In the first half of this year alone, 22,076 kratom-related court cases were heard.