Thailand’s cannabis cultivation licensing scheme for the country’s transition toward legalisation of the plant has now come to an end. Dr Atthachai Homhuan, director, regulatory affairs at Southeast Asian regional law firm Tilleke & Gibbins, gives his views on what the decision means for the country’s cannabis industry
The Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) announced in the Government Gazette that from 9 June 2022, ‘only cannabis extract with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) of more than 0.2% by weight will be considered a narcotic.’ This means that now anyone can grow, sell, or purchase cannabis seeds, plants, and inflorescence freely in Thailand, and licenses for the cultivation, possession, and distribution of cannabis are no longer required. Neither the number of cannabis plants nor the place of cultivation is restricted. It is therefore the beginning of a new chapter for cannabis cultivation in Thailand, with many opining that now is a good time to enter this exciting and growing industry.
The journey to this point began in 2019, when Thailand amended its laws on cannabis to allow for treatment for medical purposes, with one of the prerequisite conditions being that the cannabis must be grown in Thailand. The law was further amended to promote commercialization of the cannabis industry, allowing for cannabis to be added to food and beverages, cosmetics, and herbal products. In addition, three traditional cannabis-based formulas were listed in the universal healthcare coverage scheme, which means that almost all Thais have access to traditional cannabis recipes without cost. The successful launch of medical cannabis and its applications, and its viability as an economic industry, have become a national agenda and priority policy of the MOPH.
In order to achieve the above outcomes, several legal frameworks and guidelines throughout the product’s lifecycle have been developed.
For example, the Thai Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has so far granted licenses to cultivate cannabis (also known as a license to manufacture a narcotic) on more than 1,977 acres (around 800 hectares). Health professionals and Thai traditional doctors who attended the government’s training course and obtained a license to prescribe medicinal cannabis products can now prescribe cannabis regimens for their patients.
The FDA announced that they have registered over a thousand cannabis-related products, including herbal products, food, and cosmetics.
Throughout the product development lifecycle, from cultivation to launch of a finished product, the Thai FDA has regulated and monitored the cannabis industry through a license and registration scheme, which has seemed to be an effective controlling pathway. It is this licensing scheme that was ended by the recent MOPH announcement that removed the cannabis plant from the narcotics list.
To help take stock of the present situation, the following Q&A addresses some of the frequently asked Thailand-related questions in the cannabis industry.
Does this mean we can import cannabis extract with THC <0.2% by weight into Thailand, as it is not a narcotic?
No. The exemption from being classified as a narcotic applies only to extract from cannabis cultivated in Thailand. Importing cannabis extract, even in the THC <0.2% range, violates the Narcotics Code of Thailand.
Can we sell and buy inflorescence if the THC in the dried portion of the inflorescence is more than 0.2% by dried weight?
Yes. The inflorescences, seeds, plants, and roots of cannabis are no longer classified as narcotics. They can be sold and purchased in Thailand without prior regulatory approval.
Can a restaurant or café make soups or beverages infused with cannabis inflorescences?
This is a complicated question. Making a soup involves a water-based method of cooking and applying heat, which can extract some THC from the inflorescence. It is possible that the soup or beverage may contain THC in a quantity above 0.2% by weight. Therefore, the chef and restaurant may be subject to a criminal penalty according to the Narcotics Code. Furthermore, the Food Act and its bylaws do not allow the use of cannabis inflorescence in food. Bark, fibre, stems, branches, roots, and leaves of cannabis are allowed for use in food, but the use of inflorescences in a soup or beverage would violate the food laws of Thailand.
Thailand’s transformation and revision of its cannabis regulations have led to countless questions and doubts from the industry. However, some entrepreneurs and farmers have found that the changes have lessened bureaucratic hurdles and opened more opportunities. A careful review of the latest developments in Thailand’s cannabis laws and regulations will help investors ensure that their products and activities are within the latest legal bounds of this nascent and fast-evolving industry.