Of the ranks of countries legalizing medical marijuana, Thailand most likely jumps out as the least likely. In a country where marijuana is seen as a Schedule 5 drug—which carries with it a death sentence for trafficking—you would never expect medical marijuana legislation to be passed here. In fact, it is the first country in Southeast Asia to do so. Nevertheless, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) passed a new Narcotics Act with a parliamentary vote of 166 – 0, with 13 abstentions. In addition to legalizing medical marijuana, they voted to increase National Narcotics Control Committee from 17 members to 25 members, as well as legalize the use of kratom (a traditional painkiller and stimulant in the coffee family).
WHEN DOES THE NEW NARCOTICS ACT TAKE EFFECT?
Voted through on Christmas day, 2018, the new law takes effect when the law is published in the Royal Thai Government Gazette—typically in the next 4 months. It is clear that overwhelming support to amend the Narcotics Act of 1979 indicates a push for Thailand to soften its stance on medical marijuana. Recreational marijuana use will remain illegal for the foreseeable future, with fines and prison terms commensurate on the quantities involved. Possession of less than 10kg can still incur a sentence of up to five years in prison, and a 100,000 THB fine (roughly $3,000 USD). Anyone caught with more than 10kg of kancha—as marijuana is known colloquially in Thailand—will be charged with intent to illegally distribute.
However, if it follows the model set by states like California or Oregon, then getting your doctor’s prescription for medical marijuana could end up being a simple, straight-forward process for a myriad of symptoms. Marijuana has been shown to treat a multitude of symptoms, from brain-related conditions like epilepsy to gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease. This will legalize the import, export, production, possession, and use of medical marijuana. The bill that introduced the changes in legislation noted the medicinal benefits of marijuana, stating that these benefits have motivated many countries around the world to enact similar legislation.
HISTORY OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA IN THAILAND:
Cannabis was originally introduced to Thailand from India. This is evidenced by the fact that Thailand calls marijuana by its Hindu name “ganja”. Very much like the United States, medical marijuana used to be sold in Thailand before the 1930s. It was also used as a muscle relaxer by day laborers, used to ease women’s labor pains, and was also a condiment in cooking as a viable source of fiber. Sold in apothecaries, marijuana was a part of traditional medicine which helps alleviate pain and increase appetite.
In 1935 C.D. (2477), the sale and possession of marijuana was criminalized by the Cannabis Act and was further criminalized during the Narcotics Act of 1979 (2522). Despite this, the culture toward marijuana has softened over the last several decades, though not completely. Tourists do end up in jail if they are duped into purchasing the drug from undercover sources.
WHO WILL QUALIFY FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA IN THAILAND?
Firstly, only purveyors, producers, and researchers will be granted a license to handle the cultivation of marijuana. Users will need prescriptions, and it does not seem likely that they will be able to cultivate their own marijuana for medicinal use—though the law does not mention specifically who will supply medical marijuana or kratom to those who are eligible. Doctors, dentists, pharmacists, class one veterinarians, applied Thai medicine practitioners, and other medical professionals will all qualify to issue prescriptions. In addition, several government agencies, including “departments and local administration organizations” will qualify to produce the plants, however, these organizations have not been fully specified. According to the NLA, the Thai Red Cross Society and the Government Pharmaceutical Organization will also be eligible.
BIG PHARMA PATENTS FOR MARIJUANA IN THAILAND:
As reported by The Nation, the Thai Intellectual Property Department (IP)has been accused of corruption concerning medical marijuana patents in Thailand. It seems that the IP has been issuing ineligible cannabinoid medicine patent registration applications prior to the legalization of medical marijuana in Thailand. This is said to benefit big pharmaceutical companies to give them a headstart on patenting cannabis products ahead of Thai medical research and national development. Thus they have put the interestest of pharmaceutical conglomerates over those of the interests of the Thai people and their traditional medicinal approach.
A coalition of academics activists, independent organizations, NGOs, and other related groups called the Free Trade Agreement Watch have joined forces to demand that the Thai Intellectual Property Department “disclose all information and related to every cannabinoid drug patent application it has received. . . [and] immediately freeze all cannabinoid drug patent registrations, which violate intellectual property laws.” For more information on this blossoming controversy, click here.
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