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As the legal cannabis industry grows rapidly worldwide, attitudes toward the once-taboo drug are softening in Southeast Asia, a region with some of the world’s toughest laws — including death sentences — on drug offenses.

Leading the way in the region is Thailand, which legalized marijuana for medical use and research in late 2018, and in January became the first country in Southeast Asia to launch its first full-time clinic dispensing cannabis-based medications.

A regulated legal cannabis market could turn medical marijuana into a potentially lucrative tourism market for Thailand, as the below story by Skift contributor Yixin Ng shows. Experts are seeing untapped potentials in the wellness segment, which will boost Thailand’s status as a leading medical tourism destination and its recent push into niche segments to attract high-spending visitors.

Yet the green rush is unlikely to turn into a gold mine anytime soon in Asia. Thailand’s move is just baby steps in the normalization of medical marijuana, but authorities in Asia are unlikely to legalize cannabis for recreational use in the near future when stigma around marijuana use remains strong.

— Xinyi Liang-Pholsena, Skift Asia Editor, xl@skift.com, @xinyi_pholsena

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Asia Editor Xinyi Liang-Pholsena [xl@skift.com] curates the Skift Asia Weekly newsletter. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday.

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Photo Credit: Thailand is the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize marijuana for medical and research purposes, paving the way for cannabis tourism to grow in the country. Elroi / Adobe