2019 isn’t even here yet in Thailand, but the Thai people already have a reason to celebrate. The country’s parliament has just voted to amend the Narcotic Act of 1979 to allow the legalization of marijuana for medical use and research — a break from decades of intolerance on the drug. Somchai Sawangkarn, chairman of the drafting committee, called the amendment a “New Year’s gift from the National Legislative Assembly to the government and the Thai people” during a televised parliamentary session.

This is a huge step forward for a country with incredibly severe punishments for drug offenders. In countries like Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia, marijuana traffickers can incur the death penalty, and cannabis remains illegal throughout much of Southeast Asia. Indeed, a British man was recently arrested and jailed in Bali for possessing a small amount of cannabis oil for pain relief.

One of the common problems with legalization is patent requests by foreign firms, which could allow outsiders to dominate the market and make it difficult for Thai patients to access medicines. That’s why before the law takes effect, Panthep Puapongpan, Dean of the Rangsit Institute of Integrative Medicine and Anti-Aging, said, “We’re going to demand the government revoke all these [patent] requests” from foreign firms.

While recreational legalization in Thailand is still likely a long way off, many hope that this New Year’s “gift” will help pave the way. Chokwan Chopaka, an activist with Highland Network, a cannabis legalization advocacy group, said, “This is the first baby step forward.”

H/T: Business Insider