The earthy smell of the cannabis blossoms is already wafting towards the visitor on the sidewalk.

The greenhouse is a few steps away behind a two meter high chain link fence.

The separate area, which is roughly the size of a tennis court, is secured with a padlock and an electronic alarm system.

Till Fähnders

Political correspondent for Southeast Asia.

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There is a sign at the entrance explaining in Thai characters that this is a secured facility with restricted access.

No unauthorized person has access: "The security measures prevent people from just coming in who are stealing the cannabis and using it illegally," says Arun Avery, a Thai-Canadian who runs the greenhouse and holds the title of "Grow Operations Manager".

Some tall bushy hemp plants tower up beside the greenhouse of flower pots, almost like bamboo in a garden center.

The leaves have the characteristic fan shape that is also known from legalization demos or reggae flags.

The 35-year-old Avery assures that everything is legal here.

The greenhouse is located on the site of a cancer clinic in the northern Thai city of Udon Thani.

Up until a few years ago, melons had been grown there.

Cannabis as a household crop

In 2018, Thailand became the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

The director at the time hired Avery to grow hemp.

The cannabis oil obtained from the flowers of the plants is used in cancer therapy, to relieve pain and to stimulate appetite.

Back then, the greenhouse was one of the few places where cannabis could be grown legally.

But in Thailand, the legal situation is changing rapidly.

Next Thursday is the day of "ganja", as the Thais call marijuana.

From that day onwards, all parts of the cannabis plant, including the flower and leaves, were removed from the list of illegal narcotics.

The Thais are allowed to grow them privately like "household plants", as announced by Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who is in charge of legalization.

He has even announced that he will give out one million plants to Thai households.

Interested parties only have to inform the authorities in advance via the new app "Plook Ganja".

However, significant restrictions still apply: the cannabis products may only be used for medical purposes.

The content of the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) must not exceed 0.2 percent.

This makes it almost impossible to get a high from it.

Smoking the flowers remains prohibited and can now also be punished as a public nuisance.

Prison sentences continue to exist for the sale and misuse of higher potency cannabis.

So Thailand is still a long way from the “Amsterdam of Asia” that many cannabis advocates have dreamed of.

Still, it's amazing how quickly the kingdom is following other countries in Europe and America on the road to legalization.

So far, the police and the judiciary have not been squeamish about perpetrators.

Some tourists were blinded by the sometimes half-open sale of the drug and ended up in the notorious "Bangkok Hilton", as a prison is called there.

In other countries in the region, the legal situation remains strict.

In Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, smuggling a certain amount of cannabis can even carry the death penalty.

Cannabis products for restaurants, spas and cafes

In Thailand itself, too, the step is not only met with approval.

Doctors and psychologists warn against full legalization.

"We should be extremely careful," Chulalongkorn University psychologist Ratsamon Kalayasiri told the Bangkok Post.

According to her, legalization has already led to increased cannabis use.

From one million in 2020, the number of consumers has already risen to 1.89 million.

According to the psychologist, about eight percent of users experienced long-term side effects, including learning disabilities and other mental health problems.

In addition, there are doubts as to whether the authorities are at all prepared to control the quality, active ingredient content and sale of the products.