Kratom originates in Southeast Asia, where it’s long been revered as traditional medicine. However, the plant is banned in Thailand, where the official kratom legal status is in limbo. This has been a case for U.S. regulatory agencies for years: if the plant is illegal in Thailand, one of the world’s biggest suppliers of kratom products, why should we legalize kratom in the United States?
But what if I told you that the kratom Thailand ban is much less restricting than you’ve been led to believe, at least as of lately? In 2018, the Thai government passed a bill legalizing kratom for medicinal purposes. In the last two decades alone, kratom advocates in Thai government tried to unilaterally end the kratom ban four times, attempting to legalize the plant in 2003, 2009, 2013, and now 2020.
With Thai kratom seemingly returning to the forefront of the discussion, and decriminalization on the doorstep for Thai residents, what does this mean for the kratom industry? Before we can answer that question, we must first look to the Kratom Act and why Thailand banned kratom in the first place.
Opium in Thailand: Fueling Kratom Resentment
A military dictatorship overtook the Thai government in 1932, stoking political unrest, media censorship, and mass arrests of political opponents. This fueled a black opium market. But instead of banning opium altogether, the Thai dictatorship embraced it, taxing opium and profiting off the narcotics trade.
Thai opium farmers sometimes worked 18 hours a day or more. How did they survive these physically demanding work conditions? They chewed kratom leaves, which grew wild throughout the country. Kratom reportedly energized the farmers and relieved some of their exertion-related pain.
Before long, kratom use spread across the Thai working class, it seemed to be a safer alternative to opium and came directly from naturally-occurring trees in the area,plus, users noticed few (if any) side effects. It didn’t take long for opium addicts to make the switch to kratom.
There was a problem: the Thai government made a lot of money by taxing opium. Kratom grew naturally. Anybody could walk into the rainforest and pick leaves for themselves, making it difficult for the dictatorship to impose a tax. Then came war.
How War Sparked the Kratom Thailand Ban
War is bad for business. The Greater East Asia War of 1942, also known as the Pacific War, saw Axis-aligned Thailand pitted against world powers like the United States. This war, combined with declining revenue from the opium trade, led the Thai government to ban kratom.
The Kratom Act of 1943 made planting new kratom trees illegal throughout Thailand. Existing trees could also be cut down. However, lower-class citizens living in the jungles still used the plant for medicinal purposes, continuing kratom’s cultural significance as a traditional medicine despite prohibition.
The Narcotics Act of 1979
Kratom Thailand laws remained unchanged until 36 years later when the government passed the Narcotics Act of 1979. Updating the Kratom Act of 1943, this new legislation placed kratom in Schedule V classification, similar to psychedelic mushrooms. However, it was still illegal, and some say that the Narcotics Act further muddied kratom’s legal status.
How? Well, the export of kratom into world markets was effectively legalized. This is why you can purchase kratom products like Thai kratom and Maeng Da kratom, which originate in Thailand. At this point, it’s justified to ask why Thailand doesn’t just legalize kratom altogether. Well, let’s just say they’re getting there.
What’s Changed for Kratom’s Legal Status in Thailand in Recent Years?
As previously mentioned, the Thai government legalized kratom products for medicinal purposes in 2018. This was the first time that the government had updated the Narcotics Act since the law passed in 1979.
Furthermore, the Thai government plans to further loosen kratom laws this year, allowing for kratom consumption in certain parts of Thailand. With the government set to legalize kratom, the question bears: what took them so long? The Kratom Act of 1942 was established by a strict regime that history is hoping to forget. In addition, Thailand is one of the biggest exporters of kratom products in worldwide markets. Thailand kratom production is only going to keep going up as the demand increases.
And there’s another question on our minds as well: what does Thai kratom legalization mean for the U.S. kratom market?
What Decriminalization Means for U.S. Consumers
Kratom’s legal status in the United States is no less confusing than it once was in Thailand. However, as the plant becomes increasingly legalized in Thailand, U.S. authorities can no longer make the argument: if the plant is illegal in Thailand, why should we legalize kratom in the United States?
When considering U.S. kratom markets, kratom products imported from Thailand should remain available. There’s no reason to believe that local kratom Thailand laws will affect the U.S. marketplace because Thai kratom exporters have been allowed to operate unabated for years.
Thailand: Once a Leader, Always a Leader?
Despite previous prohibitions and a long, uphill battle to legalize kratom, Thailand may soon return to the fold as the world’s biggest kratom supplier. The country is responsible for growing and manufacturing Maeng Da, a Thai kratom strain that is extremely popular in U.S. markets and abroad.
Furthermore, Thailand has a history of using the plant as a traditional medicine. With this history in mind, it’s only right that Thailand allows its residents the opportunity to experience their history through kratom’s medicinal purposes. With the recent loosening kratom laws and the proposed legalization of kratom use in various parts of the country, Thailand may take its place atop the kratom throne, setting an example for the rest of the world.