Thai Law: Pure Cannabis Oil Is No Longer Considered Narcotic

Thailand's Public Health Minister Anutin Chanvirakul, right, presents a batch of CBD oil to a hospital for medical use on Sep. 25, 2019.

In an effort to ease medicinal cannabis in Thailand, on August 30, 2019 the Ministry of Public Health no longer lists cannabidiol (CBD) extracted from cannabis as a narcotic as long as it has 99% purity or more, and contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) not exceeding 0.01% by weight.

It also liberalizes 99%-pure CBD oil made from hemp (scientific name: Cannabis sativa L. subsp. sativa), with THC not to exceed the same rate of 0.01% in weight.

What it means in a layman’s term is that 99%-pure CBD oil made from cannabis or hemp with a mix of very little psychoactive THC is no longer a narcotic under the Narcotics Act of 1979.

High Hopes of Things to Come

People should not get carried away by the excitement of this partial liberalization for production, sales, imports, exports and possession of any extracts from cannabis and hemp remain under strict control of the authorities.

Legally, the liberalization can only be interpreted to mean the first step of actual liberalization of medical cannabis, pending further clearly defined regulations.

The August 30 regulation gives you hopes of a better day to come. But you need to wait; wait for favorable legal interpretation by the government and new clarifying regulations.

The most hopeful transaction out of the regulation is the ability for the private sector, local and foreign, to invest in the manufacturing of the 99%-pure CBD oil from cannabis and hemp.

The favorable interpretation by the authorities of the August 30 regulation that enables the private sector to import pure CBD oil extracted from hemp will immediately solve the ongoing problem of shortages of supply of medicinal cannabis in the country.

Foreign Investments in Local Cannabis Production

The 99%-pure CBD oil extracted from cannabis will no longer be considered a narcotic, only if it’s produced in Thailand. Imports are not possible for a period of five years ending in 2024. 

Speaking the other way around, the regulation currently bans imports of 99%-pure CBD oil made from cannabis for a period of five years from the date the regulation came into effect on September 2, 2019. Any imports during the banned five-year period continue to be illegal narcotics.

Without a doubt, the new rule favors Thailand-first manufacturing of CBD oil for medicine, while at the same time permits foreigners to invest in and hold one third or 33% of shares in a Thai manufacturing company that makes CBD oil.

A researcher showing an extraction instrument.
A researcher showing an extraction instrument which is used to separate different cannabis compounds.

When the dust settles and rules and policy become clearer, this local cannabis-oil production potential can open up an industrial-scale manufacturing in the private sector, driven by advanced technology from overseas.

A cannabis production license continues to be required as there is a line drawn by the authorities between processing narcotic cannabis and its output of liberalized CBD extracts.

A production license is required to process narcotic cannabis in a factory and change it chemically to the liberalized 99%-pure CBD oil, with THC not exceeding 0.01% in weight.

As of this date, there are a few such licensed producers, all governmental organizations or public and private universities.

The Government Pharmaceutical Organization is the leader of this group, with high capability to turn their research production into a large commercial conglomerate; they are interested in the pure CBD oil, but has no imminent plans to manufacture it.

Subject to further regulations, more applicants from the private sector will be welcome.

Do Patients Need Possession Licenses to Treat Themselves?

Let’s suppose you now have a cannabis production license to make the pure CBD oil, a question arises as to whether or not you will also need separate licenses from the Food and Drug Administration to sell, import and export this supposedly free CBD oil? Probably, yes, interpreting from the present cannabis law and rules.

What about the patient’s side, will patients be required to have a possession license to treat themselves with the newly liberalized pure CBD oil?

Maybe not. At least that is what the present cannabis law says. Provided that the medicine is prescribed by a doctor specially trained in cannabis by the Department of Medical Services – there are about 1,200 of them at the moment for the entire country – these specialized doctors are awaiting a sufficient supply of cannabis oil to prescribe to patients.

Are International Travelers Required to Have Possession Licenses? 

This is the realm of the existing regulatory regime which has not been put into test. International patients with cannabis prescriptions from a foreign country will need a possession license from the FDA to bring cannabis medicines into Thailand for consumption.

How does the application process work? What documents are required? How long will it take?

Great uncertainty here! There are no answers to these questions. Neither are there any regulations issued to implement this flexible rule in the cannabis law. You need to explore further with the FDA.

Regulation Does Not Ban Pure CBD Oil Extracted from Hemp

The August 30 regulation clearly differentiates between the 99% CBD oil made from cannabis and the 99% CBD oil extracted from hemp.

While an import of the pure CBD oil from cannabis is banned for five years, there is no 5-year import ban on the pure CBD extracts from hemp!

By the book, everyone is free to import CBD oil with 99% purity made from hemp with THC content not to exceed 0.01% by weight once they receive a cannabis import license from the FDA. This may be a true intention of the drafter of the August 30 regulation, believed to be among officials at very high levels.

At the operating level among the authorities, however, this is an area of great bewilderment. In the minds of most officials, you cannot import the pure CBD oil in any event. They interpret the Aug. 30 regulation as a complete ban on imports of both cannabis-based pure CBD extracts and hemp-based pure CBD oil.

When you pointed out the letters of the law to them, they would be caught by surprise, become tentative, hesitant and unsure of the exact answer. They apparently need time to check and reach conclusion among themselves, and most effectively to consult with the drafter of the rule. 

Again by law, the August 30 regulation does not ban imports of CBD oil extracted from hemp with 99% purity and a THC component not to exceed 0.01% by weight!

To be fair to the officials, they are stepping into uncharted territory and find it hard to keep up with new regulations themselves. They are told at briefings what can and cannot be done. It will take a bit of patience for everyone to move gradually to more clarity, backed up by additional detailed regulations.

Wirot Poonsuwan is the Senior Counsel and Head of Special Projects at Blumenthal Richter & Sumet in Bangkok and can be reached at wirot@brslawyers.com.