Top: A Hmong woman shows textiles weaved from hemp at a trade show. Image: Sakulthai magazine

A New Year present in the making for Thai farmers is a new public health ministry regulation that would permit private cultivation of hemp.

The law, which is under review by a legal authority, would grant farmers a quota of 1 rai (around half an acre) per household for commercial and industrial production of hemp-based medicine, food and cosmetics, for both domestic consumption and exports.

The measure clearly acknowledges potential positive benefits on the lives of farmers and their crucial contribution to the Thai economy. It is even a higher priority over its cannabis counterpart in the regulatory process; the hemp law is now on the way from the Ministry of Public Health to the Council of State for scrutiny before being presented to the Cabinet for a final approval.

Fierce Debate

As the U.S. Congress is locked in the face-off over the impeachment of President Donald Trump, the Thai government is divided into factions of those who favor stricter vs freer approach to cannabis-related laws.

The officials have been solemnly debating over control issues, including whether farmers should be able to grow their hemp plants in open fields, or in closed indoors environment with CCTV cameras installed to monitor movements of raw materials.

So far, the more liberal wing of the government who favors outdoor cultivation appears to be winning the argument, although law enforcement agencies still insist on monitoring of every step in the hemp production.

High CBD, Low THC

Hemp (Cannabis sativa L. subsp. sativa) as a strain of cannabis (Cannabis sativa L.) naturally contains high CBD content, a healthy chemical, and low THC, a psychoactive compound to get people high.

Drawing a parallel to the legalized industrial hemp in the U.S. market, there will ultimately be a restriction on levels of THC in the Thai counterpart as well. Whether or not Thailand will cap the THC levels at 0.3% in weight as laid out in the U.S. remains to be seen.

But one issue is being clarified in the new regulation: hemp plants which have been randomly tested to contain THC exceeding the permitted level will be destroyed in the presence of Thai government officials, and they will not be allowed to move on to the next step of the industrialization chain.

New Permits

There will be 8 new types of licenses specially designed for hemp.

They include production license for household use; production license for commerce or industry; production license for research; production license for certified seeds or other reproductive organs of the plant for sales to or for promotion of the earlier-mentioned household use, commerce and industry or research.

There are also sales license for certified seeds, fresh stems or reproductive organs or other parts of the plant to be utilized in manufacturing medicine, herbal products, food and cosmetics under those relevant laws; possession license for personal and other uses; hemp import license; and lastly, hemp export license.

In order to safeguard farmers and seed producers, holders of a production license for commerce and industry is barred from producing hemp seeds for cultivation.

Those who have obtained cannabis sales licenses under the existing cannabis law, largely unutilized over the lack of supply of CBD oil, will be delighted to learn that they have a reprieve to continue using their licenses to sell hemp products under the latest regulation.

The regulation also sets out the purposes of the hemp import licenses and export licenses to include importation and exportation for use by the government, for the noble academic use of study, analysis, research in the fields of agriculture, science, medicine or pharmacy.

Thai Hemp ‘Go Inter’

And now for the question that many of you have been asking: can Thai farmers export their hemp products to overseas markets?

The new regulation has this issue covered. The farmers must first hand in to the Thai Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a copy of the hemp import license issued by the authorities of the destination country they wish to export their hemp to.

They must also detail the name, characteristics and other specifics of hemp to be exported from Thailand, including the volumes and amounts, name and address of the foreign importer in the destination country, and means of transportation.

If the destination country totally liberalizes hemp sales and exercises no regulatory control over it at all, the importers based in that country will need to show written evidence of their legal situation to the Thai FDA, through its Thai exporter.

An authorized confirmation from the foreign government is the best such evidence, in the absence of which a notarized legal opinion from a foreign lawyer, licensed by the bar council to practice law in that country, should do just fine.

The process will be reversed in cases of importing hemp from other countries. The exporters in those nations will need to have their Thai licensed importers prepare a similar importation plan and sales scheme to file with the FDA, and so on.

Approvals are granted on a case by case basis, and not a blanket permit.

Wirot Poonsuwan is the Senior Counsel and Head of Special Projects at Blumenthal Richter & Sumet in Bangkok and can be reached at [email protected]