The South East Asian country of Thailand has approved the use of cannabis and kratom plants for medicinal use. Possession of larger quantities and trafficking of the plants, which are schedule 5 drugs, still carries a death sentence nationally and in bordering countries throughout the region.
Medical marijuana legalization passed the government’s National Legislative Assembly (NLA) with flying colors, in a junta-appointed parliamentary vote of 166-0, with 13 abstentions.
The amendment increases the National Narcotics Control Committee from 17 to 25 members. The new Narcotics Act’s changes become law once published in the Royal Thai Government Gazette, which can take up to four months. (Laws passed by the government generally come into force after publication in the Gazette.)
The Thai government passed the new legislation on Christmas day; approving the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and research.
Public hearings showed overwhelming support for the legislation, which amends the Narcotic Act of 1979 in an extra-parliamentary session handling multiple measures before the end of the year, Reuters reports.
“This is a New Year’s gift from the National Legislative Assembly to the government and the Thai people,” said the chairman of the drafting committee, Somchai Sawangkarn, in a televised parliamentary session, as reported by Reuters.
Marijuana in Thailand, similar to America, was a traditional medicine sold in apothecaries to relieve pain and fatigue until its prohibition in the 1930s.
Kratom or mitragyna speciosa is a tropical evergreen tree in the coffee family, indigenous to Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea. It has been used in traditional medicines since at least the nineteenth century.
Punishable by Death
Adult use of recreational cannabis remains illegal. It is forbidden to use Marijuana across much of South East Asia, which has some of the world’s harshest punishments for drug law violations outside of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As in KSA, trafficking narcotics in Thailand is also punishable by death. Marijuana traffickers can be subject to the death penalty in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia as well. However, bordering country, Malaysia is currently contemplating medical marijuana legalization.
The Thai Intellectual Property Department stands accused of corruption, for ignoring its mandate by proactively processing ineligible cannabis patents to Big Pharma, putting researchers at a disadvantage.
“The IP is intentionally ignoring its legal duty in order to benefit transnational pharmaceutical conglomerates by accepting ineligible cannabinoid medicine patent registration applications for consideration,” reports Pratch Rujivanarom in the Nation. The allegations state “in the process, (of receiving patent applications) the department has potentially sabotaged Thai medical research and development based on cannabis.”
Rujivanarom reported in November that “Medical access campaigners” led by Free Trade Agreement Watch –a coalition of activists from academic institutions, independent organizations under the constitution, NGOs, and related groups– “demanded the IP department disclose all information related to every cannabinoid drug patent application it has received.”
FTA Watch also demanded that the department “immediately freeze all cannabinoid drug patent registrations, which violate intellectual property laws.”
We’re going to demand that the government revoke all these requests before the law takes effect,” insists Dean Panthep Puapongpan of the Rangsit Institute of Integrative Medicine and Anti-Ageing.
“We are strongly opposed to patent registration of medical cannabis because Thai people have learnt [sic] to use cannabis in many traditional Thai medicines for hundreds of years,” Dean Puapongpan said. “Everyone should have the right to equal access to cannabis for medical treatment.”
The bill echoes his sentiments and the will of the people. The legislation notes that recent studies show that marijuana extract has medicinal benefits, which has prompted “many countries around the world to ease their laws by enacting legal amendments to allow their citizens to legally use kratom and marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes,” according to Reuters.
Additionally, the bill mentions despite being classified as an illegal substance, many patients already use marijuana to treat their illnesses.
The lifting of restrictions related to medicinal use of both plants applies to production, import, export, possession and use.
Purveyors, producers and researchers will require licenses to handle the plants, while patients will need prescriptions for medical purposes.
The law does not address who will supply medical marijuana and kratom to those who are eligible to seek permission to import, export or prescribe it, including doctors, medical professionals, applied Thai medicine practitioners, class one veterinarians, pharmacists and dentists. However, all of the above qualify to produce the plants.
According to the NLA, a wide variety of unspecified government organizations, bureaus and ministries, including “departments and local administration organizations,” also qualify. Specifically, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, Thai Red Cross Society and Government Pharmaceutical Organization are eligible as well.
Hefty fines for possession
Qualifying doctors are exempt from legal ramifications. Anyone else caught carrying more than 10 kilograms of ganga –or kancha as it is known colloquially– will face charges for possession with intent to illegally distribute. However, possession of less than 10kg may still incur a sentence of up to five years in prison and a fine of Bt100,000 or $3,068 at today’s market rate.