Could you, would you, should you… engage in Thailand’s Medicinal Cannabis Industry?

Is cannabis legal in Thailand? Thailand’s Cannabis laws.

Legalisation of Cannabis in Thailand: Medicinal use only, medical research or recreational use? 

Thailand legalised medicinal cannabis in December 2018.  Recreational cannabis use (and possession of cannabis) remains illegal in Thailand, and subject to serious repercussions (some of the harshest punishments for cannabis possession in the world).

Details and history of legalization of Cannabis in Thailand (South Asia): 

Cannabis Products in Development in Thailand

Cannabis medicinal products are being derived from 140 cannabis plants being grown in a Thailand Government-owned plantation and pharmaceutical production facility in northern Bangkok, according to Nuntakan Suwanpidokkul, Director of Research and Development at the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO).

Possessing cannabis in Thailand for recreational use still carries serious criminal consequences; including a minimum 5 year’s jail time…or worse.

  • Interestingly, for a country with harsh punishments for recreational cannabis use and possession, Thailand’s populations used cannabis as a form of traditional medicine for centuries prior to the 1930s.
  • In fact, with the legalisation of medicinal cannabis, 16 traditional medicinal formulations that have cannabis as a key component are being resurrected and will be the subject of research licencing proposals.
  • From this perspective, a long history of traditional use of cannabis as medicine gives Thailand a potential commercial advantage in formulating new medicinal applications (in progress), which may now benefit from formal testing in early investigatory studies and future clinical research studies.

Thailand’s drug law changes and medicinal cannabis licencing approvals (Details)

  • The Thailand Drug Law Amendment to the Narcotic Act of 1979 states:
    ‘Licences for the production, import, export, sale and possession of cannabis will be for government organisations, tasked with medical and agricultural research and education and narcotics suppression’.
  • The Thai FDA – Ministry of Public Health Secretary-General, stated that the Act is a guideline, and requires additional regulations to provide more details.
  • Volatility in Thailand’s drug licencing and policies can be expected, as in other countries with recently-passed medicinal or recreational cannabis legislation but a lack of detailed policies or cannabis licencing schemes

Because governments are keen to ensure early-entry into an industry that could significantly increase their country’s GDP and GNP; legality approvals are a bit ahead of the cannabis growing licencing schemes, approval processes, GMP cultivation requirements and exportation policies and guidelines.

The December 2018 law change made Thailand the first country in South Asia to legalise medicinal cannabis.

What makes Thailand a good place to grow cannabis?

  • A country that has an abundance of sunshine,  relatively inexpensive labour and a large local and neighbouring population, should make Thailand an attractive market.
  • These climate conditions are favourable for cannabis cultivation and exportation, particularly given cannabis industry experts predict the cannabis sector might reach $650 billion in just a few year’s time.
  • More conservative estimates indicate global medical cannabis demand will see the market exceeding $20 to $55 billion by 2025.
  • Conservative estimates or otherwise, medicinal cannabis demand predictions have led to unprecedented worldwide interests in developing national cannabis growth capacity.

Numerous countries, including Thailand and Australia, have rapidly changed their drug laws to ensure their country doesn’t miss out on early entry into the exponential-growth of the medicinal cannabis market.

Medicinal Cannabis in Thailand: Considerations for Industry Investors

  • On the surface, legalisation of cannabis in Thailand (Southeast Asia) presents a great opportunity for global companies to gain entry to the burgeoning global cannabis market.
  • Exportation into European and USA markets (recreational users and medicinal users in the USA are the largest consumers of cannabis products so far) is a major draw card.
  • Domestic medicinal cannabis requirements in Thailand are also expected to be a significant factor for the Thailand Government’s decision-making in terms of its cannabis production strategies
    • Over 150,000 people in Thailand suffer from Parkinson’s disease
    • Over 200,000 people have Alzheimer’s disease
  • However, the thing investors should consider strongly is this: for now, the cultivation and production of Medicinal Cannabis appears to be primarily confined to Government activities.

Thailand Governments Interest in Medicinal Cannabis & Pharmaceutical Cannabis Exportation

Thailand cannabis research studies - south Asia Legalisation of Medicinal Cannabis

The Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) has scheduled clinical trials with the aim of producing medicines to treat four specific conditions:

  • Parkinson’s disease,
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Epilepsy (drug-resistant epilepsy)
  • Pain and nausea in cancer patients

Who is growing cannabis in Thailand?

Currently, there are only two (2) officially-sanctioned medicinal cannabis plantations in Thailand allowed to grow a Cannabidiol strain cannabis plants (medicinal-use crops). Plants must have less than 1 percent Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s main psychoactive ingredient, and help supply Thailand hospitals and/or Government Research Institutes.

The first Medicinal Cannabis plantation licensed to grow is owned and operated by the GPO.

We understand that the GPO has embarked on a three-phase cannabis plan.

  • Phase One – GPO will produce 2,500 bottles of sublingual drops for clinical patient trials – these are expected to begin in July or August 2019
  • Phase Two – development and completion of a 1,000 m2 facility
  • Phase Three – an industrial-scale medicinal cannabis facility, which is scheduled for completion by early 2021.

The GPO is understood to be looking to collaborate with multinational overseas cannabis companies.

The other two Governmental agencies looking to capitalise on the new industry of medicinal marijuana are the Tobacco Authority of Thailand (TOAT) and the FDA.

  • Thailand has a large agricultural population supplying the tobacco industry, which is in decline
  • There are over 20,000 tobacco suppliers (farmers) in the areas north of Bangkok
  • It has been suggested that tobacco farmers in Thailand may eventually change crops to grow medicinal cannabis to supply the burgeoning pharmaceutical export market.

Thailand cannabis cultivation licencing approvals and regulations: Subject to change

  • Within a period of three (3) years, the Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) will be evaluating licences every 6 months.
  • E.g. the ONCB will be continually evaluating – and potentially altering – cannabis licenses issued in Thailand for the production, import/export, distribution or possession of medical cannabis, at least every six months.
  • Should changes to licence regulations occur, the ONCB can submit a request to the ministry to consider and make changes.

Given the high levels of the Thailand’s Government involvement in the medicinal cannabis sector, market entry for non-government corporations and foreign organisations is not straightforward.

Cannabis Product Patent Disputes: Investor Considerations

  • It appears that disagreements have already emerged in Thailand between local and foreign companies, e.g. over patent requests filed by foreign firms that might result in foreign dominance.
  • In January 2019, the Thailand Government ordered the Department of Intellectual Property (DIP) to revoke all patent applications that include cannabis by foreign companies within three months.

The Secretary-General of Thailand’s ONCB has said that private firms would be able to cultivate, produce and sell medical cannabis if they claim two-thirds Thai ownership.

  • Currently, licences are restricted to authorised Government Agencies, including Research Institutions, Universities and Community Farmer Cooperatives.
  • All growers will be required to work under the control of licence holders.
  • There remain concerns that the five-year restriction on any expansion of existing licences, and a mandated 2-year review, may result in a reversal of legalisation ,should the government assess any negative impacts on Thai society.

Cannabis Cultivation Security and Safety | Thailand

To increase security, the Thailand Government has stipulated the requirement for indoor grows (Greenhouses), as shown by the secure facility at the Royal Agricultural Station Pangda.

The high relative humidity in Thailand may mean greenhouse cultivators will require energy-intensive dehumidifiers to avoid diseases and other industry-related crop harms and health harms.

Thailand Medicinal Cannabis

Photo of two of the seven Cannabis Greenhouses at Thailand’s Royal Agricultural Station Pangda
Photo by CNA Insider

Summary of this blog article about investing in Thailand’s Medicinal Cannabis growth and export business sector

So could you, would you or should you invest in medicinal cannabis cultivation operations and pharmaceutical export businesses in Thailand?

It’s early days in Thailand, as it is in other countries.  Legalisation has occurred, but much of the detail in the legislation still needs to be determined.

For now, the private sector has had limited opportunity to engage in the Thailand Medicinal Cannabis market.

A “wait and see” approach would be prudent.

For assistance with your medicinal cannabis cultivation and production plans, including licencing, permits, architectural and engineering designs, and regulation requirements / GMP training, please contact PharmOut.

Sources and Further reading (Worldwide Cannabis Industry Developments):

PharmOut’s latest articles on Industry Developments

Forbes articles on Cannabis in Asia

Reuter’s World News – Thailand legalises medicinal cannabis

Thailand to start testing medical marijuana on patients

BBC News: Thailand and Medicinal Marijuana

Legality of Growing Cannabis in Australia

Page last updated on July 31, 2019.