Cannabis and hemp have been classified as category 5 narcotics under the Narcotics Act since 1979. All activities related to the plants and their derivatives had been heavily restricted until the recent rise of the movement for the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes-its first milestone being Amendment (No. 7) to the Narcotics Act, effective February 19, 2019.
Most of the product classifications discussed here are based upon the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, and upon the presence of cannabidiol (CBD) in the products. Generally speaking, THC is a psychoactive substance with fewer medical applications, while CBD is not psychotropic and has more medical applications. A higher THC content is therefore associated with a greater risk of abuse, and thus stricter regulations apply. Under the most recent legal amendments, Thai law defines cannabis as in the Cannabis sativa L. subsp. indica, and hemp as Cannabis sativa L. subsp. sativa having no more than 1.0 % THC by dry weight in its leaves and inflorescence.
The key regulator of cannabis- and hemp-related products is the Thai Food and Drug Administration (Thai FDA), a government agency operating under supervision of the Ministry of Public Health. Working closely with the Narcotics Control Committee, the Thai FDA is mainly responsible for granting and administering licenses and post-marketing control, among others. Representatives of the Thai FDA also sit on most of the national policymaking committees.
The Thai government considers cannabis legalization a complex task affecting diverse groups of stakeholders. Notable stakeholders include parties involved in both upstream and downstream production, healthcare professionals, hospitals, consumers or patients, and regulatory authorities, both in Thailand and overseas. Traditional medicine practitioners are an additional and particularly influential group of stakeholders, unique to Thailand, as they utilize longstanding traditional formulations containing cannabis.
The Thai government has adopted a protective stance toward Thai stakeholders-especially during the first stage of cannabis legalization, which runs until 2024. During this first stage licenses with respect to cannabis will only be granted to state agencies, and therefore a private entity or group of farmers is only eligible for a cannabis license if they operate jointly with a state agency. This requirement does not apply to the hemp licensing framework, wherein a private entity may apply for and hold a hemp license independently.
Following the successful legalization of cannabis for medical use, the kratom plant (Mitragyna speciosa) was removed from the category 5 narcotic list by the amended Narcotics Act (No. 8), effective August 24, 2021. Originally criminalized under the same legislation as cannabis and hemp, this amendment was made on the basis that consumption of kratom is a part of traditional Thai cultural norms, and the plant is not categorized as a narcotic in the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (an absence that is also reflected in the narcotics laws of many other countries). Similar developments as those outlined in this guide for cannabis and hemp are expected to follow for kratom, both in respect of its medical potential, and the inherent economic opportunities.
|April 28, 1979
|The Narcotics Act (No. 1) took effect, declaring cannabis and hemp category 5 narcotics.
|January 1, 2018
|The Hemp Regulation RE: Application of the License and Issuing of Licenses to Manufacture, Disposal or Possession of Hemp came into effect, allowing cultivation and processing of hemp only for industrial such as textiles, paper industries, etc. or non-commercial uses, such as consumption by indigenous groups or research and development. Nonetheless during 2018 until January 29, 2021, only state agencies were able to obtain the licenses in relation to hemp.
|January 28, 2019
|The National Council for Peace and Order’s Ordinance No. 1/2562 became effective, rejecting Thai patent applications related to cannabis (see also Intellectual Property, below).
|February 19, 2019
|The Narcotics Act amendment (No. 7) came into effect, legalizing medical use of substances listed as category 5 narcotics (e.g., cannabis, hemp, and kratom) as the first milestone of the cannabis legalization movement.
|March 30, 2019
|A ministerial notification took effect setting out 16 cannabis-containing Thai traditional medicine formulations that may be consumed for therapeutic purposes without having to be registered with the Thai FDA, as long as manufacturers obtain a narcotic production license from the Thai FDA.
|May 21, 2019
|End of the “amnesty period,” during which persons possessing cannabis for certain purposes (medical, research, etc.) could declare their possession to the Thai FDA and be exempted from criminal punishment.
|August 7, 2019
|The Government Pharmaceutical Organization launched the first batch of medical CBD oil, THC oil, and CBD:THC oil (4,500 units of 5 milliliters each) for the special access scheme (SAS) in public hospitals.
|December 14, 2020
|The “delisting” ministerial notification became effective, carving out domestically produced items containing certain cannabis and hemp plant parts, and CBD extract with less than 0.2% THC by weight, from the scope of Narcotics Act (see also Product Classification, below). Importation of these products still requires an importation license as prescribed in the Narcotics Act.
|January 29, 2021
|The Hemp Regulation RE: Application of the License and Issuing of Licenses to Manufacture, Import, Export Disposal or Possession of Hemp took effect, allowing cultivation for production of modern drugs, herbal products, cosmetics, and food products, as well as for household and certain other uses. Unlike under the first Hemp Regulation (see January 1, 2018), hemp is allowed in healthcare-related products. More importantly, private entities established in Thailand and groups of farmers (e.g., cooperatives or community enterprises) can obtain licenses independently without the need to form a partnership with a state agency.
|June 4, 2021
|Eight herbal formulas containing cannabis as an active ingredient are listed in the National List of Essential Drugs, which identifies both modern drugs and herbal products deemed necessary for the prevention and treatment of major health problems in Thailand. It also provides a drug reimbursement mechanism for government hospitals.
|August 11, 2021
|Cannabis and hemp seeds become controlled seeds under the Plants Act (1975). The seeds must exhibit at least 70 percent germination and 99 percent purity. Licensed traders (i.e., importers, collectors) must follow the requirements prescribed in the Plants Act and its bylaws.
|August 24, 2021
|Kratom is removed from the list of category 5 narcotics, (some parts of cannabis and hemp plants and their derivative products remain on the list-see December 14, 2020).
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.