BANGKOK — The sudden reality of legal, medical marijuana this week has only added new urgency to questions about what is legal for whom, where and when.
The Food and Drug Administration, which is tasked with regulating the industry, voiced confidence Thursday that everything will be ready to accommodate its roll out despite concerns raised by experts over how patients and growers can practically benefit.
FDA officials met today with medical experts to discuss the next steps for the medical use and research use of marijuana and kratom, which officially became legal Monday. The administration’s chief executive said a course was being readied for doctors interested in prescribing cannabis, as was a briefing on the law’s implementation that will go out tomorrow to health officials nationwide.
Tares Krassanairawiwong said he welcomed comments from the experts.
“There are concerns over whether patients will be able to receive treatment without disruption, and on the development of the system, from production and regulations … to accommodate the transition period until the use of medical marijuana is fully ready,” he said.
Similar to the ad-hoc process of introducing medical marijuana elsewhere, much remains to be figured out – or made up as they go along.
Tares said the experts’ suggestions on issues such as ensuring an adequate supply and patient access would be forwarded to the narcotics board tomorrow for consideration. The Narcotics Control Board must review any regulatory moves.
According to Tares, the Health Ministry has instructed the departments overseeing both modern and traditional medicine to develop a short course for those wanting to prescribe marijuana. The law empowers practitioners of Thai traditional medicine to prescribe cannabis treatments as well as certified medical professionals. He did not say when those programs would be rolled out.
Coming Out of the Shadows
Several issues have been raised about an amnesty program that was hastily put in place days before the law came into effect. It gave those already possessing marijuana for legitimate uses 90 days to notify the authorities and avoid prosecution – and hang onto their stash.
Experts however see many complicating factors.
Panthep Puapongpan of a university cannabis treatment institute said the law fails to provide clear guidelines for what will happen after the 90 days expires, which might discourage patients from coming out from the “underground.”
“In these 90 days, how much restrictions will be imposed on the patients? If this is not clear, they won’t dare come out to register,” said Panthep, dean of the Rangsit Institute of Integrative Medicine and Anti-Aging.
The government just may not be able to supply enough legal, medical-grade cannabis in that time, he said.
“If there’s not enough, there’s concern that if patients use up their stock; what will happen to them?” he said.
Chulalongkorn University neurologist Thiravat Hemachudha, a legalization proponent who gave input to the legislature, said his main concern was that those who were producing medical marijuana illegally may now be forced to stop.
“If they want these people to register, they should loosen up the regulations to allow them to cultivate marijuana again,” he said. “From my understanding of the current version of the law, there’s no way available to them.”
The law says only government agencies, certified medical professionals, educational institutions and registered agricultural co-ops are eligible to cultivate or distribute cannabis. Thiravat said restrictions should be relaxed so that individual farmers can grow the plant.
Tares, the FDA chief, said patients with medical certificates for valid illnesses covered by the law could be allowed to possess marijuana beyond the 90-day amnesty period. He added that officials are also considering ways to bring farmers who are already growing into the system.