Thailand removes cannabis extracts from banned narcotics list

In an interesting move for Southeast Asia where severe penalties for drug use have long been the norm, Thailand’s government removed cannabis and hemp extracts from its list of controlled substances.

The move is part of the new government’s push for developing the country’s marijuana industry.

“The intention is to allow extracts to be used in medicine, cosmetics and food, and support hemp as a cash crop,” Secretary-general of the Food and Drug Administration Tares Krassanairawiwong said this week.

The kingdom passed legislation allowing cannabis for medical treatment and research in December 2018. Its budding cannabis industry is expected to grow to $661 million by 2023, according to a report by Prohibition Partners released earlier this year.

The Bhumjaithai Party, which forms part of the ruling coalition, has made full legalization one of its core campaign promises under the helm of leader Anutin Charnvirakul, who also serves as deputy prime minister and health minister.

Charnvirakul spoke of the benefits of cannabis on multiple occasions. He proposed allowing every household to cultivate up to six marijuana plants as part of an effort to help struggling rural families. 

Now businesses are expecting to cash in on the new opportunities arising in Thailand, although currently only hospitals and research facilities may apply for cannabis extract licenses.

Among those interested, businessman Ishaan Shah told Reuters he is planning on supplying his billionaire family’s company Megalife Sciences Pcl with medicinal pot. “We are working toward cannabidiol (CBD) extraction, that’s our short-term goal,” Shah said.

Another investor, Singapore’s venture capital firm Expara, is pushing to raise $30 million by the end of the year to invest in cannabis-related technology.

“We think the change in the regulatory environment is a leading indicator of fast growth in this new industry,” Expara’s founder and chief executive Douglas Abrams told the outlet.

The political climate in Thailand surrounding marijuana shifted in favor of more lenient laws over the past few years. Former Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya called for the decriminalization of marijuana in 2016 as the government’s attempts to curb pot use proved to be unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, Rangsit University near capital Bangkok will soon offer marijuana undergraduate studies. The first of its kind in Thailand, the program will cover cultivation, marijuana history, and medical cannabis. Rangsit is hoping its cannabis courses will set an example for other universities in the country.

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