For hundreds of years, the kratom tree has grown in abundance throughout Thailand — one of its native countries of origin. But, in the last century, the country’s government deemed the tree illegal, classifying it as a narcotic and punishing those who attempted to grow it within Thai borders.Now, after 75 years, legislators have revised kratom law in Thailand, legalizing the production and use of medicinal kratom for the first time in the country’s history.
For many, the news of kratom’s legalization was uplifting and signified the beginning of a new, potentially prosperous age for this ancient botanical. But, beyond Thailand’s borders, what does this decision mean for the global kratom industry at large?
Let’s take a look!
Thailand’s Kratom Ban: A Brief History and Where We Are Now
Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly passed the country’s new kratom laws in December 2018 with a vote of 166-0. The legislative reform fully legalized the production, possession, distribution, and use of medicinal kratom while simultaneously enacting licensing requirements for interested parties. Thailand’s kratom suppliers, producers, and researchers will all be required to obtain licenses from the government, while users will be required to obtain a prescription.
Despite the policy reform, kratom news outlets have emphasized that non-medicinal kratom use and production are still illegal throughout Thailand. For now, those caught possessing or trafficking non-medicinal kratom will face jail time or fines.
Historically, Thailand’s kratom ban may have had more to do with opium than kratom itself — a legislative motive that has drawn criticism from residents and non-residents alike. Originally, the Thai government criminalized kratom in 1943 as a way to deter the kratom sales that were eroding the government’s opium profits. Later, in 1979, the country made kratom news headlines when they reclassified kratom as a Category V narcotic.
Today, many legislators in other countries often cite Thailand’s kratom ban as an indication of the plant’s risks and dangers. For some lawmakers, the fact that kratom is illegal in one of its countries of origin supports their own arguments for illegalization.
However, with the introduction of Thailand’s kratom law reform, these arguments will no longer hold water. In fact, in the coming years, Thailand’s new laws might help reform century-old preconceptions about the plant and its utilities.
Illegal Thailand Kratom Farms Could Become Legitimate Medicinal Kratom Suppliers
Despite nearly a century of illegalization, buying kratom and growing kratom is still commonly done in secrecy by Thai citizens. Even with the introduction of Thailand’s new kratom laws, these grow operations are still technically illegal. That said, through kratom production licensing, previously illegitimate kratom farms could become bonafide sources for the country’s medicinal kratom supply.
The possibility of government-sanctioned kratom farms will likely depend on how Thailand’s government defines medicinal kratom in a post-ban world. As of now, the country’s definition is unclear, but a hypothetical medicinal kratom production program could involve standardizing production techniques, product testing, and quality control methods.
Alternatively, even with Thailand’s reformed kratom ban, the country could continue to prosecute Thai kratom farmers for illicit kratom cultivation. In this case, the government would likely fund and grow their own medicinal kratom internally. While this strategy might result in tighter quality control, the Thai government could also miss out on the opportunity to harness existing farming infrastructure and kratom resources in Thailand, effectively undermining the capacity and reach of their medicinal kratom program.
At this time, no kratom news has explored the possibility of either option, and the Thai government has not provided any additional details regarding the function or operation of the medicinal kratom program.
Kratom Could Become Legal Elsewhere in Southeast Asia
In Southeast Asia, Thailand’s new kratom laws are unprecedented. As of 2019, Thailand is the first country in the region to legalize medicinal kratom and one of only a few to enact specific legislation in regards to kratom. Elsewhere, in the majority of Southeast Asian countries, kratom remains in a legal grey area with no defined legal status.
However, kratom news outlets have suggested that, depending on the reception, Thailand’s new medicinal kratom laws could inspire other Southeast Asian countries to adopt similar policies. For one, changes in legislation could promote further scientific research, as studying controlled substances usually requires special licensing and permits. By extension, legalizing kratom outside of Thailand could spur the development of kratom-centric medical solutions.
Malaysia is one country where Thailand’s kratom ban reform might inspire change. As kratom news and studies have found, kratom use is extremely common in Malaysia, with 88% of surveyed Malaysian kratom users admitting to daily use.
Acknowledging the prevalence of kratom use, the Malaysian government proposed a motion to ban the plant in April 2015 via an amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1952. The amendment would classify kratom as a “dangerous drug” and introduce punishments for crimes of possession and distribution.
However, during the hearing, Malaysian Members of Parliament contested the amendment, resulting in a suspension. As kratom news headlines have reported, parliament members cited several factors for opposing the change, including kratom’s medicinal value and the socioeconomic repercussions of illegalization. Nonetheless, the fact that representatives opposed the bill due to their awareness of kratom’s medicinal potential suggests that Malaysia might eventually follow in Thailand’s footsteps and legalize kratom for medicinal purposes.
Both Thailand and Malaysia are members of ASEAN, Southeast Asia’s regional intergovernmental organization that includes eight other Southeast Asian countries. ASEAN’s operations involve political, economic, and socio-cultural affairs that concern all of its participants’ citizens, and as a result, the organization often works to achieve consistent policy across all involved countries.
One of ASEAN’s areas of influence is drug administration, and the organization has taken measures to control kratom in the past. ASEAN received attention from kratom news outlets when it forbade citizens from trading medicines and supplements containing kratom across its borders — a policy that has been active since at least 2013.
More recently, however, the organization seems to have changed its stance on aggressive drug policy, citing a desire to reduce the prevalence of jailing for non-violent drug crimes. In time, Thailand’s kratom ban reform might inspire further legislative changes across other ASEAN member nations, including Vietnam, Malaysia, and elsewhere.
Don’t Expect Any Thai Kratom to Make its Way Abroad Anytime Soon
As kratom news sources have reported, apart from shifting internal socioeconomic and cultural factors within Southeast Asia, Thailand’s new kratom laws have the ability to enact sweeping changes outside of the country’s own borders. For now, however, exporting non-medicinal kratom outside of Thailand is still prohibited by law.
For decades, Thailand has forbidden its citizens from exporting the plant in any form. Some readers might find this kratom news strange, as American and international kratom vendors often carry “Thai” kratom strains such as Green Thai and Red Thai. In actuality, the vast majority of kratom on the international market originates from Indonesia, and due to Thailand’s long-standing kratom exportation ban, it’s likely that most “Thai” kratom isn’t from Thailand at all.
Unfortunately, due to the medicinal stipulations of Thailand’s new kratom law reform, the country’s trade partners won’t be receiving government-sanctioned imports of Thai kratom anytime soon. As always, these laws may be subject to change.
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