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Thailand Mulls Becoming the First Country in Asia to Legalize Medical Marijuana

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Thailand is hoping to become the first country in Asia to legalize medical marijuana and tap into the burgeoning cannabis market, Agence France-Presse reports.

According to a Thai official, a draft bill now under consideration proposes allowing marijuana for medicinal purposes, a considerable change in a country with tough drug trafficking laws.

Jet Sirathraanon, the public health committee chair of Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly, emphasized that marijuana would be legal “for medication only, not for recreation.” But he added that legalizing the drug could be an economic boon and “an opportunity for Thai people.”

The global medical marijuana market could reach $55.8 billion by 2025, according to an analysis published last year by Grand View Research.

And Jet expects Thailand could capture a good share of the multi-billion dollar market with what he hailed as “the best marijuana in the world.” During the 1980s, Thailand was one of the world’s largest exporters of marijuana, Bloomberg reported.

The move would allow Thailand to take advantage of a rapidly expanding industry, which promises to aid patients suffering from conditions like arthritis, migraines and cancer.

Thailand would join a growing cohort of nations were the drug is legal for medical use, including Australia, Germany, Israel and Canada. America’s northern neighbor recently legalized marijuana for recreational use, and pardoned those convicted of minor pot possession in the past. Medical marijuana is currently legal 31 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

For now, marijuana remains illegal in Thailand, with severe punishments for those convicted of drug trafficking. A prominent smuggler from neighboring Laos was sentenced to life in prison in Bangkok in March, AFP reported. He had initially faced the death penalty.

Thailand’s ruling military junta has previous debated drug reforms without much success, and the country’s prisons are overcrowded with people convicted of minor drug offenses.

Read more: Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Thailand’s Turn to China

Thailand also isn’t the only country in the region eyeing marijuana reform and might have competition in South Korea. Seoul has also begun to amend narcotics laws to legalize the import of medical marijuana products, the Korea Herald reported in July.

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Write to Eli Meixler at eli.meixler@time.com