[Editor’s Note: This is a stunning development. While legalization is for medical marijuana, we predict Thailand will become a global player within the cannabis industry. In the 70s, pot from Thailand was the best you could buy.]
On Tuesday, Thailand’s parliament voted to legalize medical marijuana, becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to embrace a liberalization of cannabis drug policy. The parliament executed the policy change by modifying the country’s 1979 Tax Act, in a vote of 166 to 0, to allow the production, import, export, possession and use of cannabis under medical supervision.
The country’s ruler, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, must approve the decision for it to be finalized. Using the plant recreationally remains illegal, and still carries with it the penalty of up to five years in prison for possessing less than 10 kilograms.
“This is a New Year’s gift from the National Legislative Assembly to the government and the Thai people,” said Somchai Sawangkarn, chairman of the drafting committee, in a televised parliamentary session, according to Reuters.
The policy change is expected to go into effect in the new year, which the Huffington Post reports will occur when the new law is published in the Government Gazette, the nation’s public newspaper.
Reuters noted that Thailand had a long history with medical marijuana up until the 1930s. Previous to that, Thais had traditionally used cannabis to treat aches and pains. But like many of their peers in Asia (and across the globe), they followed the trend of criminalization for the rest of the century when it came to cannabis.
One of the big stories around Thailand legalizing medical cannabis isn’t necessarily about the government coming to the conclusion that the plant has medical value, but the fear of outside influences taking over an industry that doesn’t even exist yet. Many activists expressed worry that outside companies might come in and attempt to take over the whole market — particularly through patents on genetics, leaving locals little to gain fiscally from the new industry.
Protecting Thai Cannabis Genetics
Panthep Phuaphongphan, a medicine professor at Rangsit University, said in an extended Facebook post written in Thai that one of the most confusing parts of the new medical marijuana law is whether outside entities would be able to patent specific cannabinoids or Thailand’s famous landrace genetics.
Those famed Thai genetics tend to lean heavily on the sativa side. The tall string-bean-esque Thai strains are the opposite of their short and stout cousins from Afghanistan’s kush producing regions. The Landrace Team, a seed company specializing in landrace strains, sourced their stain Thai Hill locally in Thailand. Acquired at 500 meters above sea level, it’s said to smell of sweet carrots and tropical fruit. You can see why Thais with a clue about good pot genetics might want to protect their national cuts, as opposed to letting the more business-minded folks in parliament act too fast.
Phuaphongphan specifically called for Thai officials to rescind any cannabis patents filed before today’s vote. He feared that waiting until the law was changed would open up Thais to costly legal challenges after the companies could argue for new protections under the new law.
“Let’s warn on this occasion that such ideas are random, risk harm to the nation and will make Thailand lose enormous benefits from these patents,” said Phuaphongphan.
Thailand’s largest marijuana advocacy network is also worried about the ramifications of the patent.
“Granting these patents is scary because it blocks innovation and stops other businesses and researchers from doing anything related with cannabis,” Chokwan Kitty Chopaka of Highland Network told Reuters earlier this month, when the passage of the new legislation looked imminent.