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First Asian Country Set to Legalize Medical Marijuana

As Thailand moves to pass medical marijuana, foreign businesses threaten to push local Thai businesses out of the new market.

Medical marijuana may soon become a reality in Thailand. With the legalization, the country would become the first Asian country to approve cannabis for medical purposes. But a face-off between local and foreign companies for control of the lucrative marijuana market is delaying the legalization process.

Thai parliament is preparing to approve medical marijuana in January 2019, but a slew of patent applications filed by foreign firms is giving Thai marijuana activists grounds for business concerns. Activists are concerned that foreign dominance of the cannabis market will kill the market for local researchers and businesses.


Thai Government May Be Sued If They Grant Marijuana Patency to Foreign Firms

Chokwan Kitty Chopaka, an activist with Highlands Network, expressed concern over the pending patents to Reuters. Chopaka’s agency advocates for cannabis legalization in Thailand.

“Granting these patents is scary because it blocks innovation and stops other businesses and researchers from doing anything related with cannabis,” said Chopaka.

“We were very shocked to see this because it would be like allowing them to patent water and its uses,” Chokwan told Reuters, adding that applicants are seeking patents for plant-related substances, which are not allowed under Thai law.

Local researchers and advocacy groups have threatened to file lawsuits against the government if they go ahead and grant the marijuana patents to foreign firms. The lawsuits could cause a delay in the legalization of marijuana.

Reuters reported that Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has been pressured to invoke an executive order to settle the issue. However, Puttipong Punnakanta, a government spokesman, said the prime minister is not compelled to do so at the moment. He added the government will resolve the matter through the Ministry of Commerce so as not to violate citizens’ rights.

The campaign to legalize medical marijuana is sweeping across Britain, Denmark, Israel, Colombia and several U.S. states. Recreational marijuana is already legalized in Canada and Uruguay, and other countries may do the same once its medical use is approved. Malaysia and Singapore, neighbors to Thailand, are also weighing whether to legalize cannabis for medical use.

Legalizing Medical Marijuana Would Be “a Return to Centuries-Old Tradition”

The legalization of marijuana in any form in Asian countries marks a remarkable legal shift as marijuana use in Southeast Asia, in particular, carries severe penalties. Offenders are given lengthy sentences in Thailand and executed in Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia for trafficking it.

Some of the foreign firms applying for marijuana patency in Thailand include British giant GW Pharmaceuticals and Japan’s Otsuka Pharmaceuticals. Neither company has commented on the status of their applications and the controversies surrounding it.

Thai traditionalists had used marijuana for healing for countless centuries before it was prohibited in 1934. It was used among local medicine men to ease labor pains in women, and farm laborers used it as a muscle relaxant after a hard day in the fields. Medical researchers say it could be used to treat epilepsy as well as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Legalizing it in Thailand would amount to “a return to centuries-old tradition,” said Thai Cannabis Corporation (TCC), a Thai-owned organization pushing for cannabis legalization in the country, to Reuters.

“The attitude is that it’s already a part of traditional medicine … and we should ensure that Thais can control their own industry,” said Jim Plamondon, marketing head of TCC.



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