With parliament set to approve the legislation as early as next month, Thai businesses and activists have raised concerns that a raft of patent requests filed by foreign firms could allow them to dominate the market and make it harder for researchers to access marijuana extracts.
“Granting these patents is scary because it blocks innovation and stops other businesses and researchers from doing anything related with cannabis,” said Chokwan Kitty Chopaka, an activist with Highlands Network, a cannabis legalization advocacy group in Thailand.
“We were very shocked to see this because it would be like allowing them to patent water and its uses,” Chokwan said, adding that applicants are seeking patents for plant-related substances, which are not allowed under Thai law.
Opposition to foreign firms has threatened to stall the legalization process, with researchers and civic networks threatening to sue the government if the patents are granted, according to media.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has been urged to issue an executive order to end the impasse, but a national government spokesman said there were no plans to do so yet.
“We will proceed normally through the Commerce Ministry first. We must let everything proceed without harming people’s rights,” said Puttipong Punnakanta.
Among a handful of foreign companies that are looking to enter the Thai market are British giant GW Pharmaceuticals and Japan’s Otsuka Pharmaceutical, which have jointly applied for marijuana-related patents.
Representatives for GW Pharma and Otsuka declined to comment on their applications.
“We haven’t seen progress on our patent registration maybe because many people are opposed to allowing foreign drugmakers to enter the market. I feel like we are seeing a high bar on this,” said one foreign company official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
For Thai Cannabis Corporation (TCC), a majority Thai-owned entity that is waiting for legalization to obtain a license to sell cannabis-derived ingredients to manufacturers, the move would be “a return to centuries-old tradition”.