Thailand decriminalized on Tuesday kratom, a tropical leaf long used as an herbal remedy but which some health regulators around the world have criticized as potentially dangerous.
Kratom – scientific name Mitragyna speciosa – is part of the coffee family, used for centuries in Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea for its analgesic and mildly stimulating effects.
It has become increasingly popular in the United States, where the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned against its use, citing risks of addiction and abuse.
The change in Thai law means that “the general public will be able to consume and sell kratom legally,” government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said in a statement.
A study by the Thailand Development Research Institute estimated that decriminalization will save authorities around 1.69 billion baht ($ 50 million) in prosecution costs.
Kratom stimulates the same receptors in the brain as morphine, but with much milder effects, and in Thailand it is mainly used in the deep south, where Muslim workers use it to relieve pain after manual labor.
It has not been subject to international restrictions, although the World Health Organization announced last month that it was reviewing whether kratom should be considered for control.
Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said the decriminalization of kratom – which originated in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea – was “welcome, and frankly long overdue.”
“The legalization of kratom in Thailand ends a legacy of abusive criminalization of a drug that has long been used in the country’s traditional rural communities,” Robertson told AFP.
Soontorn Rakrong, adviser to the commission drafting the new legislation that has long advocated decriminalization, said farmers in southern Thailand could grow kratom as a crop to offset falling rubber prices.
In Indonesia, kratom is legal but its status is under review, with some politicians pushing for its ban.
Thai lawmakers have shown some desire to reform the kingdom’s harsh drug laws in recent years.
In 2019, Thailand became the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize medical marijuana, and the government has invested in the extraction, distillation and marketing of cannabis oils for use in the cannabis industry. health.
But overcrowded Thai prisons are still teeming with inmates with long sentences for drug-related offenses – possession of a few meth pills can win a decade in jail.
Jeremy Douglas, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said Thailand is discussing and considering drug detox and diversion programs for methamphetamine users to ease the strain on the system and ” also because it is more efficient “.