Thailand is in advanced stages of legalizing medical cannabis, but a row over the patent applications filed by foreign cannabis companies may jettison the process that was expected to culminate in a law being passed in January 2019.
Local businesses and activists feel that the granting of those cannabis patents will make the foreign companies control the cannabis industry in the country and deny scientists a chance to conduct needed research on the plant.
Chokwan Chopaka, a cannabis legalization activist, compared the patent applications to someone wishing to patent water and all its uses. Thai law doesn’t allow anyone to acquire a patent for any plant-related substance.
Civic networks and researchers are threatening to take legal action against the government in case the patent applications are approved.
Singapore and Malaysia, Thailand’s neighbors, are just getting started on the debate to legalize medical cannabis, so Thailand would be a kind of pioneer in the Southeast Asian region if it passed the appropriate legislation early next year as expected.
Such an action would be a major undertaking, given that the Asian region has been known to have some of the harshest penalties for possession, distribution and consumption of marijuana. For example, the death penalty is routinely handed out and implemented in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia in case someone is convicted for trafficking marijuana.
Similarly, thousands of people have been killed in the Philippines in a drug war that intensified when President Rodrigo Duterte started cracking down on narcotics in 2016.
However, marijuana hasn’t always been illegal in Thailand or the region. Traditionally, it was used as a medicine for sore muscles for Thai field workers for thousands of years. Thai women also used it to ease labor pains.
Those who are familiar with the word “bong” may be surprised to discover that this word (referring to the water pipe used when smoking weed) has its origin in the Thai language. Marijuana only became illegal in Thailand in 1935.
The move to legalize cannabis, at least for medical purposes, is therefore seen as the Thai community returning to its roots of using the plant as a medicine.
Furthermore, Thailand already earns a lot from medical tourism. Adding cannabis to the treatment options available to its visitors will therefore boost the medical tourism industry.
Another major plus for the upcoming cannabis revival in Thailand is the favorable tropical climate of the country which can make it cheaper to grow cannabis when compared to the marijuana grows in other countries, such as Canada.
What is left is for the government to handle the controversy brewing over patents well so that the interests of the indigenous firms are protected without locking foreign companies out. The two need each other if the industry is to develop and thrive to its full potential.
Cannabis industry players, such as Sunniva Inc. (CSE: SNN) (OTCQB: SNNVF) and Supreme Cannabis Company Inc. (TSX.V: FIRE) (OTCQX: SPRWF), in areas where the sector is thriving can only hope that any sticking issues are resolved early so that the industry in Thailand takes off without any baggage to weigh it down.
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