Thailand to legalize medical cannabis: NLA unanimously approves legislation

Thailand to legalize medical cannabis: NLA unanimously approves legislation

In a decision described as a “New Year’s gift”[1] to the Thai people, Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly unanimously passed new legislation that will permit the use of cannabis to treat medical ailments and conduct research. The landmark decision has made Thailand an outlier in a region known for having some of the toughest drug laws in the world surrounding cannabis.

Regulators, however, clarified that the legislation should by no means be interpreted as legalizing recreational cannabis, which, for now, remains prohibited. Violators apprehended for possessing, cultivating, and transporting cannabis for purposes other than those permitted by the new legislation will still be liable to imprisonment and/or fines.[2]

The legislation will take effect once it has been published in the Royal Gazette. While specific details have yet to be released, the Bangkok Post reported that the law will permit “the use of cannabis…For government and medical benefits, treatment of patients, research and development, agriculture, commerce, science, and industry.”[3] The newspaper added that users will be allowed to possess “specified amounts” to treat illnesses so long as they have a proper prescription from certified medical professionals or practitioners of traditional Thai medicine.[4]

“Keep an eye” on guidelines: Justice Minister

Thailand’s Justice Minister Prajin Juntong stated that various stakeholders in the Kingdom’s cannabis space must start familiarizing themselves with key information about cannabis and the upcoming legislation. He added that government agencies such as the Office of Narcotics Control Board, the Public Health Ministry, and the Education Ministry will provide information to these stakeholders to ensure clarification at all fronts.[5]

Though the decision drew little controversy in the country, many have voiced concerns about patent requests from foreign firms that could enable them to dominate the local market, thereby putting Thai players and researchers at a disadvantage.

“Granting these patents is scary because it blocks innovation and stops other businesses and researchers from doing anything related with cannabis,” said activist Kitty Chopaka, who works with the cannabis legalization advocacy group Highlands Network.[6]

“It would be like allowing them to patent water and its uses,” she added.[7]

Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, however, reassured the public that while the question of cannabis patents in Thailand is a complex issue, local researchers will nonetheless be able to utilize cannabis extracts to create medicines. He added that two of the eleven patent requests submitted to the Department of Intellectual Property have already been withdrawn.[8]

Part of Thai culture

Thailand had historically used cannabis as a traditional medicine to ease pain and fatigue prior to being banned in the 1930s. In fact, cannabis strains found in Thailand were once reputed for their superior quality and potency, which made the Kingdom among the world’s top exporter of cannabis at the time. Today, stakeholders in the local cannabis space, including lawmakers, medical practitioners, and entrepreneurs, hope to capture the opportunities afforded by the cannabis industry not only to capitalize on economic opportunities, but also to benefit from the broad spectrum of reported medicinal qualities of the substance.


[6] “Weeding out foreigners: strains over Thailand’s legalization of marijuana,” Kanupriya Kapoor and Panarat Thepgumpanat, Reuters (Dec. 12, 2018) (available at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-cannabis/weeding-out-foreigners-strains-over-thailands-legalization-of-marijuana-idUSKBN1OB0D0).

[1] “Thailand approves medical marijuana in New Year’s gift,” Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat, Reuters (Dec. 25, 2018) (available at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-cannabis/thailand-approves-medical-marijuana-in-new-years-gift-idUSKCN1OO0CK).

[2] “Medical cannabis, kratom bill passed by NLA,” Aekarach Sattaburuth, Bangkok Post (Dec 25, 2018) (available at https://www.bangkokpost.com/news/general/1600566/medical-cannabis-kratom-bill-passed-by-nla).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Cannabis growers will be given guidelines,” The Nation (Dec. 25, 2018) (available at http://www.nationmultimedia.com/detail/national/303610630).

[6] “Weeding out foreigners: strains over Thailand’s legalization of marijuana,” Kanupriya Kapoor and Panarat Thepgumpanat, Reuters (Dec. 12, 2018) (available at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-cannabis/weeding-out-foreigners-strains-over-thailands-legalization-of-marijuana-idUSKBN1OB0D0).

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Govt vows benefits from legal weed,” King-oua Laohong, Bangkok Post (25 Dec, 2018) (available at https://www.bangkokpost.com/news/general/1600102/govt-vows-benefits-from-legal-weed).

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