Thailand has one of the world’s strictest drug laws, but recently approved marijuana for medical use and research. Lawmakers confirmed that marijuana for recreational use remains illegal.

The junta-appointed parliament in Thailand has voted to amend the Narcotic Act of 1979 on Tuesday in an extra parliamentary session handling a rush of bills before the New Year’s holidays. The National Legislative Assembly’s 166 members voted in favour of the change and there were no votes objecting the motion. There were 13 members who abstained from the vote.

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

While some countries have legalised marijuana for medical and even recreational use, possession and use of drugs remain illegal in most countries in Southeast Asia and face severe punishment like life sentence and death penalty.

In the UK, the government approved medical marijuana earlier this year and became available on 1 November to patients with a prescription. In the Unites States, medical marijuana is legal in 30 states, though the laws governing what’s permitted vary from state to state.

The legalisation of marijuana is not without controversy as some foreign firms have requested patent that will allow them to dominate the market and will make it harder for Thai patients to access medicines and for Thai researchers to access marijuana extracts.

Marijuana reportedly has various medical benefits such as treatment for stroke, epilepsy, dementia, depression, and anxiety.

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