Since mid-June, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has unobtrusively been accepting applications from government and private hospitals and clinics for cannabis sales licenses.
More than 200 have applied and got their licenses, mostly government hospitals.
But only a handful have started to treat patients with cannabis medication, due to an acute shortage of supply of CBD oil and THC oil, produced single-handedly by the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO).
Even though the cannabis sales licenses, word by word, do not impose any restrictions on what forms of cannabis in various stages of production a licensee can sell, the licenses are strictly issued for medical purposes.
No recreational sales are envisioned. And the single form of cannabis the licensee can sell is cannabis medication authorized by the FDA.
Only hospitals and clinics are eligible to apply; there is no one else qualified. And those sanitariums must have on their payrolls and be staffed by doctors, dentists or pharmacists, specially trained in dispensing cannabis by the Department of Medical Services (DMS).
Four rounds of such training have turned out more than 800 cannabis-trained medical professionals, who are issued training certificates by the DMS and are required to be registered as authorized dispensers with the FDA.
Two more rounds of training to go this month and in September; seats have all been filled up months ago. Over 1,000 DMS-trained medical professionals will have graduated from this course.
Those doctors who miss the train will have to wait for an online training curriculum, currently under design.
Tight and Loose Control
Theoretically, during the first five years after legalizing medical marijuana, the government’s grip on cannabis is expected to be firm.
But gradual loosening of government’s control has clearly been noticeable. Allowing private hospitals and clinics to apply for cannabis sales licenses and training medical professionals from the private sector are two most conspicuous advancements in this first year of legalization.
Thai traditional cannabis medicine large production plan and certification of cannabis folk doctors, both granted under political pressure, are two additional areas that move forward very quickly to benefit the masses.
We’re talking about local villagers in far-out provinces who grew up in care-free childhood, familiar with marijuana plants secretly cultivated in the woods, leaves of which were used in tasty Tom Yum Gai or chicken spicy soup they used to enjoy.
Some of those rural villagers even joked about how people in their entire village were “intoxicated” when the hidden plantation was burned and billows of marijuana smoke were blown by the wind to influence nearly everyone in the village.
The low-income populace could get their hands on hundreds of thousands of bottles of Thai traditional cannabis medicinal oil, made available by local groups around the end of this year or the beginning of next year.
An Alternative Cannabis Manufacturer
The government’s tight control comes in the form of restricting a supply of cannabis medicines in the local market.
But the situation should start to ease early next year when hundreds of thousands of bottles, if not millions, of CBD and THC oil flood the country from the GPO second harvest and an expansion of its production facilities. This is where Abhai Phubejhr Hospital steps in.
The Abhai Phubejhr Hospital, the country’s second licensed cannabis maker, has established a good-manufacturing-practice certified pharmaceutical factory within its compound for decades. It will likely be able to offer thousands of its uncontaminated cannabis formulas for the first time from its first harvest that has just been cultivated.
A multiple-acre expansion of its original indoors cannabis greenhouses is under construction.
After 2021, the year the GPO launches a large-scale industrial manufacturing of cannabis oil extracts on the Eastern Economic Corridor, millions of bottles of cannabis products might inundate the market, loosening the regulatory control.
All this foreseeable plentiful productivity is the reason why the government has dropped its plan to allow the GPO and the Thai Red Cross Society to temporarily import cannabis drugs to meet the short-term gap of supply.
For A Privileged Few?
The one area the Thai government is strict and very careful in monitoring is to whom and when it should grant cannabis production licenses, an authorization highly coveted worldwide to grow cannabis plants and produce pharma-grade cannabis extracts in the nation.
So far, only three major producers of cannabis medicinal formulas are licensed: The GPO, the 78-year-old Abhai Phubejhr Hospital in Prachin Buri and the Arjaro Hospital in Sakon Nakhon.
The GPO and Abhai Phubejhr manufacture modern cannabis pharmaceuticals, while Arjaro focuses on Thai traditional cannabis medicines.
To date, the GPO monopolizes the manufacturing of medical-grade cannabis oil, its first lot of 4,500 bottles of 5ml THC oil—the first of three cannabis formulas manufactured by the GPO—just delivered early this month to the Ministry of Public Health.
This first lot, although to be distributed to end-user patients free of charge and not for sale, is estimated to carry a price tag of 500 baht (USD16) per bottle to beat the black market’s cannabis oil, selling for 1,000 baht a unit.
Wirot Poonsuwan is the Senior Counsel and Head of Special Projects at Blumenthal Richter & Sumet in Bangkok and can be reached at [email protected]