Growing ganja permission: a real gate-way for Thailand’s promising industrial crop?

Growing ganja permission: a real gate-way for Thailand’s promising industrial crop? 

Abstract The current revision to Thailand’s Narcotics Act (B.E. 2563) permits Thai corporations to produce cannabis (ganja) for therapeutic purposes, as well as conduct benefcial research and development in science and agriculture. While ganja possession, distribution, and use are still illegal in Thailand, the law removes certain elements of Cannabis sativa (including hemp) from the narcotic lists as of December 2020 and Thailand’s narcotics board plans to remove them totally from the lists before the last quarter of 2022. The Thai Food and Drug Administration (Thai FDA) board maintains the exclusive licensing authority to assess applications and provide authorization due to the complexity of the registration process. In this view, we analyzed the guidelines for obtaining cannabis production license, and it was apparent that the announced law was in-line with regulations set-out by many countries in terms of security and prevention of misuse. The other criteria however fall merely onto the government gains, rather than public interests. To avoid the claimed state monopoly, several types of licensing should be issued in the future, depending on the genuine purpose of the farmers. The complete regulation process and conditions for obtaining a ganja growing license in Thailand are highlighted and discussed in this review. Keywords: Cannabis, Ganja, Legalization, Marijuana, Thai sticks, Thailand © The Author(s) 2022. Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit Background Apart from kratom (Mitragyna speciosa Korth) and a tablet methamphetamine or yaba, ganja or marijuana (Cannabis sativa L.) has remained the most commonly reported type of illicit drugs used in Tailand for the last 20 years (Angkurawaranon et  al. 2018). In traditional alternative medicine, these plant-based medications are known for their functional properties, and Tailand is well known for having an ideal climate for production (Chouvy 2019; Tipparat et  al. 2012). More importantly, since the late 1960s, Tailand has been noted for developing the unique technique for ganja growing that produces thick inforescences dense to the stem known as “Tai sticks” (Chouvy 2019; Kravanja 2016). Nowadays, it is commonly agreed that the cannabis either hemp or ganja is from the same species of C. sativa L., and therefore, growing these plants had been prohibited in Tailand since 1979. Since 2007, however, attempts have been made to legalize hemp for textile purposes (Tipparat et al. 2014; Sommano et al. 2020). In 2018, Tai legislation formally legalized ganja as a class-5 narcotic drug and psychotropic substance for therapeutic purposes, although recreational use of the substance is still prohibited (Cannacata 2020; Kanato et al. 2020). Te current permission intends to make ganja one of Tailand’s future industrial crops, with benefts for research, agriculture, tourism, and the local market, as well as protecting Tai verities’ intellectual property (Cannacata 2020). As from December 2020, certain parts of ganja and hemp (subsp. sativa) as well as their extracts and by-products from extracting process with the content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Open Access Journal of Cannabis Research *Correspondence: 2 Cluster of Agro Bio-Circular-Green Industry (Agro BCG), Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand Full list of author information is available at the end of the article Sommano et al. Journal of Cannabis Research (2022) 4:10 Page 2 of 11 no greater than 0.2% were removed from the narcotic list (Gazette and Health Mo 2020). Te permission allows stem, root, leaves with no bud or forescence, hemp seed and hemp seed oil, under granted permission, to be used freely (Fig. 1). Te plant parts and substances other than these are still considered drugs of psychotropic potential under the provisions of the Tai Narcotics Act (B.E. 2522) (1979). For distribution of cannabis-related drugs, the penalty is a maximum of 15 years in jail and a fne of up to 1.5 million THB, with lesser penalties for manufacturing, importation, or exportation depending on the quantity (Leechaianan and Longmire 2013; Aroonsrimorakot et  al. 2019). Meanwhile, charges for cannabis-related drug usage carry a maximum sentence of 1 year in prison and a maximum fne of 20,000 THB. Nonetheless, after the legal revisions took efect in 2018, research revealed a massive increase in the number of ganja users in Tailand (Kanato et  al. 2020). Tis number may rise in the future as the public at large becomes more aware of scientifc evidence and the therapeutic efects of cannabis in the treatment of illnesses (Ratwichit and Jitkuakul 2019; Taikla et  al. 2018). Te new rule allows licensed traditional medicine professionals and modern medical practitioners to dispense licensed medicinal grade cannabis products and Tai Traditional Medicine formulations (Zinboonyahgoon et al. 2020). Fig. 1 Ganja on class-5 narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances of the Thai government gazette efective December, 2020. Superscript digit one indicates the following: under approved permission by Thai FDA. Superscript digit two indicates the following: the Thai government listed ganja, kratom, opium, and hallucinogenic mushrooms in class-5 of narcotics classifcation in the Narcotics Act (Saingam et al. 2013). The removal of ganja of the lists is being examined for amendment of the Act in 2022, but it must be published in the ofcial Royal Gazette before then (Reuters 2022). Superscript digit three indicates the following: only produced in Thailand Sommano et al. Journal of Cannabis Research (2022) 4:10 Page 3 of 11 Although Tailand was the frst country in Asia to amend its narcotics-control laws in an attempt to promote the use of cannabis for medical purposes (Zinboonyahgoon et al. 2021; Jialin et al. 2020), experts have opined that the amendment is very limited, allowing only licensed research and development with public institutes and consumption with a medical certifcate, raising the question of whether it will or will not beneft the nations and, more importantly, Tai farmers (Beatty 2020; Parpart 2020). Te purposes of current review are to access the status of legalization and to discuss the advancement and limitation(s) of existing regulation(s) for Tai cannabis growers. Te presented information herein will be advantageous for farmers and entrepreneurs, alike, abiding by these new law and regulation. Signifcant of ganja permit regulations for Thai public health While the public is concerned about the change of Tailand’s cannabis law, legalization is exclusively for medicinal purposes or as drug regulation in general (Rägo and Santoso 2008). In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) expert committee on drug dependence had agreed on the appropriate level of international controls for cannabidiol (CBD), a phytocannabinoid devoid of psychoactive efects to be used for medical purposes (Mayor 2019); the Tai government has adopted this to the law a year later on February 18, 2019 (Zinboonyahgoon et  al. 2020; Rehm et  al. 2019). CBD has recently been studied in preclinical and clinical trials and proven to have a potential pharmacotherapy for treating symptoms of a variety of neuropsychiatric illnesses, including addiction, anxiety, psychosis, motility problems, and epilepsy (Premoli et al. 2019). Tis active ingredient binds to key brain receptors involved in the metabolic and neuroinfammatory pathologies and a variety of brain functions including the type-1 cannabinoid receptor (CB1R) and the type-2 cannabinoid receptor (CB2R) (Kumar et  al. 2019). Te metabolic syndromes are thought to be linked to a change in systemic infammation, with CBD playing a major role in the mitigation (Mastinu et al. 2018). Patients who want to use cannabis for medical purposes must frst get a prescription from a practitioner, dentist, or a registered Tai-traditional medical professional. Te diagnosis must be made based on evidence-based medicinal procedures derived from highly credible research studies, clinical specialists, and the expected outcome of patients (Akasin 2019). Te existing regulation’s efects for public health are primarily focused on three types of medical complications (Akasin 2019; Nonthasawadsri 2020; Suphanchaimat and Pavasuthipaisit 2018) as the following: 1) Te conditions with highly supportive research evidences including difcult-to treat epilepsy, side efects from chemotherapy (nausea and vomiting), spasticity in multiple sclerosis, and intractable neuropathic pain and HIV 2) Te conditions that require further scientifc evidences including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, demyelinating disease, anxiety disorder, and patients in a palliative care and fnal stage of cancer 3) Te conditions that may be privilege from ganja treatment but without adequate research evidences 4) In 1985, the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) approved two synthetic equivalents of THC, Marinol® (dronabinol) and Cesamet® (nabilone), for alleviating nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy in patients who have failed to respond to conventional antiemetic therapies (Brunetti et al. 2020). In the decades later, these therapeutic cannabinoid products were used to treat diferent forms of chronic pains (Croxford 2003) and neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis (Pertwee 2002), epilepsy (Cortesi and Fusar-Poli 2006), and other movement disorders (Müller-Vahl et  al. 1999), following by the approval of other synthetic drugs including Syndros® (dronabinol, oral solution) and Canemes® (nabilone, capsules). In Europe, however, the herbal preparations in the forms of decoctions, oils, and sprays or simply inhaled with a vaporizer (i.e., Volcano® and pen vaporizers) are preferable (Brunetti et  al. 2020; Hall 2018). After the release of the current law, Tai FDA has also approved natural cannabis products including cannabis extracts produced mainly by Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO), Tai traditional recipes and cannabis oil (DTAM®) manufactured by department of Tai traditional and Alternative Medicine (Nonthasawadsri 2020). The position of Thailand regulation within the broader cannabis regulation environment across the world Cannabis and other substances, including the herbal forms of resin, extracts, and tinctures, were included in Schedule I of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, making their use, possession, production, manufacture, export, import, distribution, and commerce illegal except for medical and research purposes (Hall 2018; UN 1972). Since the early 1990s, there has been an increase in global interest in the legalization of cannabis for therapeutic purposes (Hakkarainen et  al. 2015). Tis movement began in 1996 in California, where 215 initiatives were approved in the favor of medicinal cannabis legalization. Following that, uses of medical marijuana was Sommano et al. Journal of Cannabis Research (2022) 4:10 Page 4 of 11 allowed in 28 states in the USA, with 18 more allowing some forms of recreational marijuana usage (Dyer 2017; Hollenbeck and Uetake 2020). In the Netherlands, possession of small amounts of cannabis imposes no ofense and it is among the leading countries with the altered policy to reduce the penalties relating to narcotic drugs (MacCoun and Reuter 1997). However, there are no other European Union countries which ofcially legalize cannabis supply for recreational purposes, but legislative models are currently purposed along with decriminalization for home cultivation in Belgium, Czech Republic, and Spain (Hughes et al. 2017; Belackova et al. 2019; Bone et  al. 2018). Decriminalization for personal cultivated marijuana was also a part of the drug law (de jury) in three Australian states and territories (South Australia, Australian Capital Territory (ACT), and Northern Territory), as well as Jamaica (Belackova et al. 2019). Marijuana producers in Canada must apply for licenses through the health ministry and must pass security checks and quality-control inspections, as per the “Medical Marijuana Access Regulations” (MMAR) of 2001 (Eggertson 2013; Fischer et  al. 2015). It was estimated that more than 2% of Canadian citizens relied on medical marijuana treatments and nearly hundreds of individuals had applied to become licensed growers impacting a ten billion dollars business revenue (Hollenbeck and Uetake 2020; Fischer et al. 2015). In 2018, Canadian government has passed the legalization of recreational marijuana for adults under certain regulatory in place (Cox 2018). It is generally accepted that legalizing cannabis for patients has often implemented an ever strict regime, for example, the authorities and medical professionals still request evidence-based recognition of cannabis as an approved treatment (Hakkarainen et al. 2015). Overall, the ultimate goals of ganja legalization in Tailand are primarily to provide access to this substance to patients who rely on it for therapy, as well as to support research and development. Te legalization also allows diferent classes of federal licensees including cultivation (both of hemp and ganja), processing, and others such as research and analytical services. Te government pays less attention to the risks connected with illicit markets, juvenile access restrictions, the construction of an appropriate safety and regulatory environment, and the criminal justice system, that are all necessary. Furthermore, rather than promoting fraudulent political policy, information and ground understanding about the ganja’s use of conduct should be provided to the public. We therefore conclude that unless the legalization of ganja in Tailand is for recreational use, the current regulation is comparable with a 1961 single convention on narcotic drugs. Permission and growing ganja in Thailand For growers, industrial hemp and licensed cultivation of ganja, for the purposes of research and scientifc investigation, is legal in many places. Furthermore, growing these plants for personal use is also allowed in some countries (Ratwichit and Jitkuakul 2019; Hakkarainen et al. 2015; Potter et al. 2015; Lenton et al. 2015). As of June 2020, Tailand’s cultivation permission was only valid for C. sativa L. used for research and domestic medical purposes, and parameters like cultivation area, growing quantity, security, detailed information, and the applicant’s criminal record had to be provided along with a duly flled application form (ONCB 2020; Puttasrijaru 2019). Only a few types of applicants are allowed, according to the protocol, including (i) the government and (ii) public universities whose mission is to conduct research, education in agriculture, medical services, or narcotics control, and (iii) Tai farmers associated with a registered community enterprise, private university, and professional individual with a valid agreement with the mentioned register public sectors (MOPH 2020). To prolong a permission, applicants must report that they have no prior criminal records involving narcotic drugs (class-5) and that their previous work progress demonstrates that they have had a consistent track record. Any change in cultivation quantity must be reported to the Tai FDA, which is part of the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), in order to revise the agreement. Nonetheless, if the cultivation location changes, the government will consider updating the application. According to this new regulation, 2793 permissions have been granted with as many as 343 cultivation permits (as of December 2021). A number of the farmer community enterprises are involved in these permits, the majority of which have an agreement with the MOPH as a public sector counterpart (Narcotics Control Division Food And Drug Administration (FDA) 2020). After the law came into efect, it was anticipated that over 200,000 individuals were prescribed medical cannabis, with 90% of those being frsttime users (Kanato et al. 2020). Tis has the potential to secure the medicinal cannabis industry’s status while also providing growers with a window of opportunity. However, the addiction stigma that refects the negative perception of ganja use in Tai culture, adverse side efect, and complex system of safeguard are the challenges for cannabis industry and the success of implementation of this new law (Zinboonyahgoon et  al. 2020; Ritmontree et al. 2019). Te government’s license monopoly model is also seen as a barrier to private investment (Kirdphol and Junngam 2020). Sommano et al. Journal of Cannabis Research (2022) 4:10 Page 5 of 11 Legal propagation Sharing the same scientifc name as marijuana, hemp is known for its utilizable fber. Additionally, the term “hemp seed” is recognized when the material is used as a source of seed oil. For ganja, the resinous blend of cannabinoids that localized mainly in the trichomes of foral tissues is used for recreational or as therapeutic drugs (Small 2015; Clarke and Merlin 2016). Te international criteria, nonetheless, deems CBD as the major cannabinoid composition in the foral tissue of industrial hemp which is typically about 2% weight by weight (w/w) or less, and THC should be less than 0.3% w/w, although the European Union standard is not over 0.2% w/w (Hu et al. 2019). Ganja, on the other hand, is dominated by THC, which frequently reaches 20% w/w (Chandra et al. 2017). Apart from the diferences in the levels of cannabinoid, hemp, and ganja are quite difcult to distinguish by their morphologies (Datwyler and Weiblen 2006). Sawler et al. (Sawler et  al. 2015) also stated that genetic distinction, such as employing specifc genes linked in THC production, is insufcient to distinguish hemp from ganja. Hemp plants are usually tall, unbranched, and grown for a high ratio of fbrous stem-to-foral material, with a higher number of fowers. Only the seed of ganja is listed as a narcotic in Tailand’s existing legislation (Gazette and Health Mo 2020). However, the basis of separation of the ganja and hemp seeds employed by the Tai government has not been clearly described. Ganja, like all other angiosperms, has a life cycle that includes seed, seed germination, seedling, vegetative phases, and fowering (Mediavilla et  al. 1998) (Fig.  3A). For the pharmaceutical industry, quality control (i.e., the content of medical-grade cannabinoids, biomass, and resin), seedling propagation is considerably less advantageous than vegetative or cutting propagation to avoid male plants and cross pollination of diferent varieties (Chandra et  al. 2020). When sexually propagated, a stable-line germinating seed lot and a standardized growing process are crucial (Chandra et  al. 2010). To initiate the rapid growth, sprouting seeds (germinating taproot) require moisture, air, and heat (Fig.  2B). Te seed produces its frst two leaves, also known as the cotyledons, after 2  weeks. Tese cotyledons are not true leaves but contain food for the young plant to survive during the frst few days. Te next set of leaves to appear are the “real leaves,” which resemble the classic cannabis leaves. For the frst 3  weeks, the seedling(s) require a minimum of 18h of light per day to stimulate their growth. Male plants that fower earlier are removed during the early fowering stage, and female plants are kept under the 12-h photoperiod until they reach maturity (Chandra et  al. 2017; Chandra et  al. 2020). In fact, when grown in hot, dry regions, the temperate hemp seedlings can transform into the narcotic cultivars (Small 2015; Bouquet 1950). Based on the current Tai law, the term ganja seed is ambiguous. However, the legal procedure requires that the applicant for growing license provides the details of seed origins with or without variety name and reports the amount of possession (ONCB 2020). Mother plants of the desired genotypes are cultivated vegetatively with an artifcial 18-h artifcial light supply for the asexual approach. Te vegetative plants are used to produce cutting with rooting hormone, which are maintained in high humidity and continuous light to produce vigorous root system (Potter 2004) (Fig. 3C). Te details of additional propagation material, like those required for seed, must be provided throughout the licensing process (ONCB 2020). Ganja cultivation requirement Te minimal requirements for establishing the cultivation area for medical ganja farmers’ licensing applications in Tailand include the considerations of location, storage and security, controls, and administrative activities for prevention (MOPH 2019). Production, distribution, and utilization plans, as well as the purchasing order or agreement formed between farmers, farm owners, and buyers, should determine the size and amounts of cultivation (ONCB 2020). Te initial prerequisite for either indoor or outdoor growing is consent documentation of land or space utilized in a given location (providing evidence of ownership of the property, the geographical address with details of the GPS monitoring system). Te growing space has to be protected with secured walls and durable doors with limited number of entrances (including the fre exit). Clear label with the statement “Class-5 narcotic drugs production area” as no less than 3 cm needs to be well exposed. Propagating and cultivation areas are to be separated (Fig. 4). Cultivation must adhere to Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) for herbs and standard operations for cultivating cannabis, with Tai FDA inspections for active cannabinoids and heavy metals on a regular basis (Puttasrijaru 2019; ACFS 2018). Finally, the permission holder has to provide Tai FDA with the standard protocols for logistics control, which includes the harvesting, transportation, and disposal for tracking. Furthermore, full security service (viz. security, electronic access control and CCTV) should be installed with the limit access to the growing site. Te requirements for obtaining the permission in Tailand are concluded in Table  1. Similar requirements have been established in Canada for licensed growers. Tere, they are able to apply for subclasses of licenses, viz. micro, standard or nursery depending on the purpose and scale of production (Application requirements for cannabis cultivation, processing and medical sales licences 2018). In Australia, however, harvesting is excluded from the cultivation Sommano et al. Journal of Cannabis Research (2022) 4:10 Page 6 of 11 license; instead, the grower has to apply for production licenses in addition to growing (ODC 2020). Value proposition of the current ganja policy We used the value proposition canvas to highlight the true value ofer to Tai farmers when looking at the cannabis laws (Clark et al. 2012). We looked at the areas of (1) products/services—the national ganja policy—(2) gain creators—how are farmers benefting from the policy—from the farmers’ perspective—and (3) pain relievers—how do they alleviate the discomfort? (Pokorná et  al. 2015). Figure  5 illustrates the value propositioning of the current ganja policy. Te ultimate goal of legalizing marijuana cultivation (at least partially) is to protect cannabis-dependent patients’ rights to obtain cannabis for medical purposes under the supervision of a licensed physician, as well as to strengthen the country’s pharmaceutical security and prevent pharmaceutical monopolies. (Kanato et al. 2020). According to the Tai FAO, there are around 40 medical conditions for which cannabis can be legally prescribed, and only about 400 medical practitioners who can authorize its usage (Cannacata 2020; Sornpaisarn et  al. 2019). Cannabis, on the other hand, was said to have the potential to boost Tailand’s economic growth (Bangkok Post 2019). Terefore, the actual pain from the agricultural sectors was that cultivation, possession, and trade were previously ofensive according to the out-date provisions of the Narcotics Act, B.E. 2522 (1979). Furthermore, experts warn that legalizing ganja would cause more harm than good to the country, citing evidence that marijuana can lead to the usage of other narcotics (Saengpassa 2021). While the promulgation of the law was in-line with many countries advancing the uses of cannabis, the Tai growing permission was ambiguous and involving solely by the government approvals (Bone et al. 2018; Kirdphol and Junngam 2020). More crucially, the private sector is not yet explicitly allowed to hold licenses unless they are in cooperative with one of the government’s licensees (Cannacata 2020).

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