The Journey of Cannabis and Hemp in Thailand
The use of cannabis (also known as marijuana or weed) has long been recognised among Thais as a herbal medicine, remedy and food ingredients. However, cannabis is also well-known for its psychedelic property, which affects cognition, consciousness, mood and emotions of the cannabis consumer. Due to the negative effect of cannabis, the Thai government criminalised the possession, usage, and sale of cannabis. The Cannabis Act (the Cannabis Act B.E. 2477 (1934)) was introduced in 1934, which later was revoked and replaced by the Narcotics Act, B.E. 2522 (1979) (“the Narcotics Act”).
Under the Narcotics Act, Cannabis and hemp are classified as a Category 5 Narcotics, which means that no person shall conduct any activities relating to the production, import, export, disposal, possession or consumption. Even though the Narcotics Act criminalises the production, disposal, consumption and possession of cannabis with heavy penalties for both users and occupants, it is undeniable that patients with medical conditions such as Alzheimer, cancer, etc. benefit from the use of cannabis following to a number of medical researches.
Thus, legislation to legalise the use of cannabis for medical purposes was needed as this will open up an opportunity for Thai people to access cannabis for medical treatment and update outdated provisions, which had failed to keep up with the current situation.
In February 2019, with the promulgation of the Narcotics Act (No. 7), B.E. 2562 (2019), the Narcotic Act was amended to allows for the use certain Category 5 Narcotics, i.e. cannabis and kratom plants, for medical and research purpose only. This is regarded as the first relaxation of cannabis regulation in Thailand.
There was further relaxation of the cannabis regulation in December 2020 where certain parts and extracts of cannabis and hemp were removed as Category 5 Narcotics. Consequently, particular parts and extracts of cannabis and hemp are no longer perceived as Category 5 narcotics, provided that such parts and extracts must be grown or produced in Thailand and used for medical, research and production of health products purposes only. The removed parts and extracts of cannabis and hemp include leaves, Cannabidiol (CBD) with tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”) amount not exceeding 0.2% of the total weight, hemp seed, hemp seed oil or hemp seed extract, for example.
With the recent removal of almost all parts of hemp from Category 5 list of narcotic substances, in January 2021 the Ministry of Public Health has launched the Notification of the Ministry of Public Health Re: Use of hemp of cosmetics B.E. 2564 (2021) (“the Notification”). The Notification allows the use of hemp seed oil or seed extract for the production of cosmetics, provided that such ingredients must not have a THC level exceeding 0.2 % by weight. Prior to the Notification, hemp fell within the scope of narcotics according to the Notification of the Ministry of Public Health Re: Ingredients not allowed for use in cosmetics B.E. 2559 (2016), which prohibits the use of hemp in cosmetic production.
Thailand took another step down the cannabis road with issuance of the Ministerial Regulation Re. Application and License for Production, Import, Export, Selling or Possession of Hemp, gazetted on 30 December 2020 (“the Ministerial Regulation”). The Ministerial Regulation now allows any interested parties, whether a natural person, juristic person, or community enterprise to apply for license to produce, import, export, distribute and possess hemp. The licence can only be issued under the following objectives:
- furthering the goal or mission of state agency;
- utilising hemp fiber in accordance with culture, tradition or lifestyle provided that the cultivation area is restricted to one rai (1,600 square meters) per one family;
- for commercial or industrial purposes;
- for medical purposes;
- for education, analysis, research and improvement; and
- producing the certified hemp seed.
In the case of production, selling and possessing of hemp, the application process is dependent on the place of where the operation takes place. If the operation is conducted outside Bangkok, the applicant is required to file application at the Provincial Public Health Office, for example. However, in the case of import or export of hemp, the applicant must lodge the application with the Thai Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) office.
To further utilise all parts of hemp, in February 2021, FDA committees is proposing the use of particular cannabis parts and hemps in processed food and the use of hemp seed and hemp extract in food. If such proposal is approved, FDA will later work on a draft Notification of the Ministry of Public Health. It should be noted that the subject of this proposal is the operator who wishes to register its product and apply for registration number with the FDA.
Since Thailand has always been recognised as an agricultural country and well-known tourist destination for foreigners, the legalisation of cannabis could be great news for Thailand’s economy, especially for the agriculture and tourism sectors. Hence, cannabis will soon be a potential cash crop for Thai farmers as another option of income.
If you have any questions or require any additional information, please contact Threenuch Bunruangthaworn, Archaree Suppakrucha, Jutiporn Wongwaitayakul of ZICO Law Thailand or the partner you usually deal with.
This alert is for general information only and is not a substitute for legal advice.