A new law on cannabis legalization will address two issues many foreigners want to know: roles of foreigners in production of weed-based medicine, and how international travelers may bring medical cannabis with them into Thailand for personal use.

Firstly, foreigners will be able to own shares in commercial production of cannabis pharmaceuticals under a new regulation, as long as those shares doesn’t exceed 33 percent.

The new rule, drafted by the Ministry of Public Health, will allow production of cannabis-based medicine for local consumption and exports, with prior authorization by the Narcotics Control Board and the health ministry.

It is currently under review by the Council of State, an agency tasked with ensuring that all legislatures in Thailand comply with other existing laws. If the review is successful, the regulation would likely come effective in the first quarter of 2020.

Industry observers and legalization activists are closely watching the move because no companies have ever been granted a license to produce cannabis in the country so far.

The new parameters, if approved, will open a whole new world of cannabis business and medicinal marijuana for economic benefits of the Thai population for the first time beyond the narrow scope of research and study, while efforts will continue to be made to ensure that the substance will not be abused and siphoned into undesirable recreational use.

Since early this year, distribution of a narcotic cannabis production license has been restricted to government organizations, universities and hospitals, all for the purpose of research and treating patients and none for commercial.

The Narcotics Control Board will be empowered to designate a company as “a health ministry authorized person, eligible to apply for a cannabis production license.

Shortage Addressed

Government hospitals in and outside Bangkok are currently overwhelmed with patients suffering from cancer-related ailments and neurological diseases hoping for cannabis treatment, and there is only one state producer of cannabis oil for research purposes.

Commercial medicinal cannabinoids production has not taken shape. There are simply no local pharma-grade cannabis medicine supply chains available here in Thailand.

Thousands of medical practitioners, pharmacists and dentists specially trained in cannabis are licensed to practice cannabis medicine, but those licenses sit on the shelf as the doctors cannot find cannabis pharmaceuticals to prescribe to their patients.

The launch of cannabis medicine commercial production will help respond to the high demand by the Thai population.

New Export?

Exportation of cannabis medicine to the world market is stated explicitly as a rationale for issuing the regulation, leading one to infer that world-class technology and capital investment will be required to produce premium standards of cannabis pharmaceuticals acceptable in industrialized countries.

Modern pharmaceutical companies, Thai and foreign, are already well versed in know-how and flush with cash. They stand a good chance of being labeled as “health ministry authorized persons” under the new regulation to expand into medical cannabis.

A hospital in Trat province unveils a medical cannabis service on Oct. 16, 2019.

The release of this regulation will provide enough certainty for large Thai conglomerates to take part in this promising venture, boosted by funds and partnerships from abroad.

To take it further, one can also imagine a state-of-the art pharmaceutical plant by a big name pharma, in a joint ventured by a large Thai corporation, on the Eastern Economic Corridor once the cannabis industry is lit up in full.

Moving Ahead, Cautiously

Just as some officials are touting the economic benefits that cannabis may bring, the authorities have expressed caution in moving the commercialization forward. Their caution translates into measures includes a background check on the applicant.

Among the application procedures spelled out in the draft guidelines, the applicant company will be subject to a background check by the authorities, and a certification of the clean criminal history will be required.

The rule does not say whether the background check will go all the way to cover the shareholders and directors of the company, but one should anticipate the possibility.

Two-Step Authentication

The license itself will come in a two-step process. A routine non-narcotic pharmaceutical production license from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is needed before a company can apply to become a health ministry authorized person.

The FDA drug production license and the company’s status as a health ministry authorized person will then enable the firm to apply for a narcotic cannabis production license, also issued by the FDA.

Existing pharmaceutical companies who already have a normal FDA drug production license on hand will be at an advantage; it will be quicker for them to move straight to the narcotics board and a second FDA production license.

The two FDA licenses will automatically allow you to sell and distribute finished cannabis medicine products in the Thai market—you don’t need additional sales licenses. Normal registration of drug formulas would still be required, though.

Medical Cannabis and Air Travels

Lastly, foreign readers of Khaosod English would be happy to know that the new rule is very tourist-friendly.

After months of ambuigity, it lays down details of how international travelers can get a Thai possession license to carry with them their cannabis medicines to treat their personal illnesses, prescribed by doctors in their own countries.

They will be allowed a supply of 90 days. A copy of the prescription and an original doctor’s certificate outlining necessary details will be required.

The required information includes the name and address of the patient, the illness, the diagnosis and symptoms, the name and characteristics of the medicine, the doses ordered, and the amounts of medicine prescribed, and the name and address and certification number of the doctor.

There is no mention of notarization of the documents, but as with any documents made abroad, notarization by a notary public and legalization and authentication of the documents (not their contents) by the Thai embassy in the applicant’s country should be anticipated.

Licensing for airlines to carry cannabis medicines on the airplane for emergency treatment of passengers is also included in the new rule.

Wirot Poonsuwan is senior counsel and head of special projects at Blumenthal Richter & Sumet in Bangkok and can be reached at wirot@brslawyers.com.