Thailand is closer than ever to delisting kratom as a narcotic, according to the country’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB).
On Tuesday, July 7th, 2020, the ONCB announced that Thailand’s Council of State had finished evaluating an amendment to Thailand’s Narcotics Act. Now, in its final stages, the amendment will require an endorsement from the cabinet, which already approved the notion earlier this year.
If passed, the amendment would end nearly a century of strict kratom regulation in Thailand. The country originally illegalized kratom cultivation in 1943 after discovering that the plant’s accessibility and low cost could threaten their government’s opium sales. Then, in 1979, Thailand classified kratom as a Category V narcotic, illegalizing possession and sale. Eventually, in 2018, Thailand legalized kratom for medical use. But recreational use and possession of the plant within the country’s borders have remained illegal.
According to ONCB secretary-general, Niyom Termsrisuk, the ONCB is also working with health ministries and locals to grow kratom for medical and research purposes. So far, 135 villages and communities within ten provinces are involved. However, to operate legally, these kratom projects will require additional regulations. These laws have been drafted and will be reviewed in public hearings in the coming weeks.
The kratom plant is native to Thailand and many other Southeast Asian nations. However, Thailand’s strict regulations have prevented kratom from becoming a legitimate commodity within its borders. As a result, the neighbouring nation of Indonesia has taken the mantle as the world’s largest kratom exporter. Lax kratom laws and growing demand in the West have cemented kratom as a lucrative cash crop for Indonesian farmers, especially those transitioning away from depreciating commodities like rubber and palm oil.
Thailand’s loosening kratom restrictions could cause an economic boom akin to what Indonesia has experienced. But it remains unclear whether or not Thailand’s government is interested in the opportunity.