Thailand has removed low-potency cannabis and hemp extracts from its narcotics list, in an effort to promote the development of medical cannabis products for use in the country’s newly-legal medical cannabis industry.

The amendment to Thailand’s Narcotics Act removes CBD extracts containing less than 0.2 percent THC from the Category 5 narcotics schedule. Other drugs in the category include psychoactive mushrooms and the kratom plant. Category 5 drug offenses can be punishable by a fine of up to 1.5 million baht (around $48,970 USD) and 15 years in prison. 


Law change intended to allow extracts in medicine, cosmetics, and others

The decision to remove low-potency cannabis and hemp extracts from Category 5 was done “to allow extracts to be used in medicine, cosmetics, and food and support hemp as a cash crop,” Tares Krassanairawiwong, secretary-general of the Food and Drug Administration in Thailand, told Reuters.

The decision to legalize cannabis extracts containing less than 0.2 percent THC is on par with similar limits in many parts of Europe, which also consider cannabis products containing less than 0.2 percent THC as allowable for use. In the US, hemp oils and extracts containing less than 0.3 percent THC aren’t considered controlled substances. And at the extreme end of this legislative trend, Switzerland allows all cannabis and hemp extracts that contain less than 1.0 percent THC.

In November last year, Thailand became the first south-east Asian country to legalize cannabis for medicinal use. Last month, Thailand’s Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) began the distribution of its first batch of legal medicinal cannabis product. The ten thousand bottles of cannabis oil which make up this initial batch are being gradually distributed to hospitals across the country to treat registered patients. The GPO has reportedly already begun planting a larger second crop to meet demand, which it expects to produce up to 200,000 bottles of the oil. 

According to figures from the Asian Cannabis Report, published by the cannabis data analytics firm Prohibition Partners, Thailand’s cannabis market is forecasted to reach $660 million USD by 2024. 

The total Asian cannabis market, the firm predicts, could be worth as much as $8.5 billion USD by 2024 if the trend of softening cannabis laws continues in Asia through the next five years. 

In Thailand, licenses to research and develop these low-potency cannabis extracts will be limited to hospitals and research facilities, but government officials are currently reviewing regulations that would allow domestic businesses to apply for similar permits.


A short history of cannabis law in Thailand

In the not-so-distant past, Thailand was the picture-perfect example of a nation determined to take a hardline stance on drugs – no matter the cost. 

Sixteen years ago, Thailand’s then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra launched a “war on drugs”aimed at tackling the country’s widespread illicit use and distribution of methamphetamine, or ya ba (ยาบ้า), as it’s known in Thailand. Within the first three months of the campaign, there were some 2,800 extrajudicial killings in the country as a direct result of the drug war – that’s on average 30 killings a day. Incredibly, a 2007 investigation later found that more than half of those killed had no ostensible connection to the drug trade whatsoever. 

Since then, Thailand’s attitude towards drugs changed dramatically. The violent drug war gave way to a decade of mass incarceration, which by 2016 had caused a major population crisis for the country’s prisons. That same year, justice minister Paiboon Koomchaya would go on to announce that the Thai war on drugs had failed. 

“The world has lost the war on drugs, not only Thailand,” Paiboon told Reuters. “We have clear numbers that drug use has increased over the past three years. Another indicator is there are more prisoners… I want to de-classify methamphetamine but Thailand is not ready yet.”

What Thailand was ready for, the government would later decide, was legal cannabis. 

Investors poised to jump into the Thai domestic cannabis market

One concern for Thai lawmakers who removed low-potency cannabis from the country’s narcotics list was that large multi-national corporations might try to monopolize the Thai medical cannabis product market.

As a result, the government has decided to limit all cannabis production, cultivation, and sales exclusively to licensed Thai producers for the next five years. Lawmakers believe that this will allow the domestic industry to become robust enough to compete with large international cannabis firms once the market opens. 

Despite these restrictions on international business, foreign investors are already looking to get involved in the Thai market by pairing up with licensed domestic hospitals and research institutionsand investing in cannabis-related technologies being developing in Thailand. 

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