Pot Frenzy Sweeps Thailand as Government Touts Medical Marijuana

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Dr. Ganja is a bespectacled green cuddly teddy whose job is to educate Thailand about the benefits of medical marijuana.

The squishy toy is the latest illustration of the nation’s embrace of medical cannabis, an industry poised to expand to more than $660 million by 2024 from an estimate of $300,000 last year. The biggest cheerleader of the business opportunity may be a surprise: Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.

Though Thailand last year became the first Southeast Asian nation to allow medical marijuana, the plant has not been decriminalized and tough penalties remain. Possession and trafficking could lead to long prison terms and big fines.

Amid that backdrop, the pro-marijuana former business tycoon Anutin wants to add cannabis plantations and processing facilities, as well as scale up local hospitals in Buriram, a northeastern farming province, to become champions of medical marijuana. This is a crop that some in the province — better known for rice cultivation — had until recently never seen, let alone sought to grow.

“People here have ganja fever,” said Thanaporn Pornsangakul, a scientist at Pela Plern Herbal Development Center, which is responsible for growing and supplying medical marijuana plants to Buriram’s only internationally accredited hospital. [Read more at Bloomberg]