How Thailand is paving the way for gay rights and legalizing marijuana



Thailand is widely seen as a conservative and deeply religious country, with a military prone to meddling in politics and a king for whom “revered worship” is stipulated in the constitution. It is also the first country in Asia to decriminalize cannabis and the first in Southeast Asia to move towards legalizing same-sex unions. Such developments stand out in a region where gay sex is illegal in many countries and some impose the death penalty for drug offences. Among those applauding the moves in Thailand is the vital tourism industry.

1. Is smoking weed really legal in Thailand now?

Yes. As of June 9, cannabis – also known as marijuana, pot or weed – is no longer listed as a prohibited substance under Thailand’s Narcotics Act. However, the government claims that decriminalization is intended for medical purposes only. It has repeatedly sought to discourage recreational use, although this will be difficult to enforce as no law explicitly prohibits it. The government has warned that smoking weed in public could violate the country’s public health law, which states that a smell or smoke of cannabis is a public nuisance. It has also evolved since decriminalization to restrict its use to adults 20 and older and ban it in schools and for pregnant or nursing women. Although all parts of cannabis plants, regardless of potency, are now legal, cannabis extracts that contain more than 0.2% of the psychoactive component, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), remain illegal.

2. What’s going on with same-sex marriage?

The Thai House of Representatives passed several bills relating to the rights of same-sex couples in June. Bill argued that the Cabinet stops before the actual marriage. Instead, same-sex partners could register a civil union, jointly manage property and inherit upon death, and adopt children together. The House also passed a bill proposed by the opposition party Move Forward, known as the Marriage Equality Bill. It would amend Thailand’s Civil and Commercial Code to remove references to sex or gender in the official definition of marriage. Bills always require additional votes in the House and Senate before any can become law; no date has been set. An opposition MP noted that Thailand did not necessarily have to choose between the two options. Precedents have been created in countries such as France where couples, of the same sex or not, can enter into a civil partnership or marry.

3. Why is the government doing this?

Despite a military coup in 2014 – one of many over the years – the government has gradually moved in a generally more progressive direction when it comes to cannabis and LGBTQ rights, although the reasons vary.

• The Civil Union Bill was approved in principle in 2018 by the junta cabinet led by General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, which had overthrown the civilian government. This followed years of pressure from civil society and some government officials for Thailand to advance human rights and modernize to keep up with changing social norms.

• Also in 2018, the junta-appointed parliament approved the medical use of marijuana, citing health benefits, and this limited measure came into effect in early 2019. Push for broader legalization has come later that year, after the first post-coup election. Construction tycoon Anutin Charnvirakul’s Bhumjaithai Party had promoted cannabis as a cash crop and promised to legalize home cultivation. When the party came fifth and joined the coalition government, Anutin became health minister. He claimed his decree removing cannabis from the list of narcotics as a victory for his party.

Local businesses and family growers, for starters. In no time, numerous dispensaries have sprung up in Bangkok selling cannabis buds, many of which are locally sourced. Long lines of customers stretch on the sidewalks of the busy streets. Some well-known restaurant brands have started selling cannabis-infused foods and drinks, not to mention many other small businesses. Cannabis cultivation is expected to become more robust once a proposed bill to regulate the cultivation, import, export and sale of cannabis is passed. The tourism sector, which is still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, is also looking to leverage developments to bolster Thailand’s brand as an LGBTQ-friendly destination and one of the world’s largest hubs for change. gender and medical and wellness tourism.

5. What is the general LGBTQ status in Thailand?

As a predominantly Buddhist country that remained so amid the arrival of Islam and Western colonialism over the centuries, Thailand did not inherit laws against homosexuality or sodomy like some of its neighbours. But despite its reputation for having a relaxed attitude towards gender and sexual diversity, LGBTQ activists say there is still a long way to go to achieve equality. Homosexual unions practiced elsewhere are not recognized. Thus, foreigners married to Thai nationals are only eligible for nonimmigrant spouse visas if they are of the opposite sex, and same-sex spouses of expatriate workers in Thailand are not eligible for dependent visas. Thai nationals cannot legally change their gender or title on national identity documents to reflect their identity. Many LGBTQ activists have also complained of discrimination when it comes to employment decisions. Although there is a degree of LGBTQ visibility in the entertainment industry, including in nightclubs and on television talk shows, they are still vastly underrepresented in other roles in society.

6. How does this fit into the wider Thai landscape?

Thai society can sometimes seem outdated and riddled with strict rules on one side, tolerant and free on the other. There is no official state religion but the monks are highly respected. The monarchy is considered the “spiritual pillar” of society and any criticism is banned on national security grounds, with violations punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The 2019 elections were billed as the end of five years of military rule, but that hasn’t changed much: Prayuth returned as prime minister with help from a military-backed party and the Senate appointed by the military. The crackdown on dissidents and government critics grabbed headlines during unprecedented youth protests in 2020, which called for the king’s power and wealth to be limited and more democracy to be introduced. On other fronts, cities and resorts like Bangkok and Pattaya are known as centers of the sex trade in Southeast Asia, despite the fact that prostitution has been illegal in Thailand since 1960. Some lawmakers are working to legalize casinos, seek to create jobs, attract foreigners. investment and stimulate tourism. Parliament is also considering a bill that would open up the alcohol market, currently dominated by big business, to smaller players and home brewers.

7. How does this fit in with the rest of Asia?

Thailand seems to be a pioneer for the rest of Asia. Some neighbors like Singapore penalize the possession, consumption and trafficking of cannabis with heavy fines, prison terms and even the death penalty. In Malaysia, which also has strict drug laws, a parliamentary group is looking at policies for the medical use of cannabis. Taiwan is the only Asian jurisdiction that legally recognizes same-sex marriage. Vietnam allows same-sex couples to have symbolic marriages but does not recognize marriage. Hong Kong does not allow this, but does allow expatriate gay workers to bring their spouses over on dependent visas. Meanwhile, in other places like Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei, same-sex sexual relations are prohibited.

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