Thailand is set to become the first Asian country to legalise medical marijuana, as its’ parliament sets to approve the legislation as early as January 2019.
This has raised concerns among Thai businesses and activists as foreign firms filed up a raft of patent requests, which could allow them to dominate the market and limit access to marijuana extracts for research purposes.
Chokwan Kitty Chopaka, an activist with Highlands Network, a cannabis legalisation advocacy group in Thailand said that, “Granting these patents blocks innovation and stops other businesses and researchers from doing anything related with cannabis."
"It would be like allowing them to patent water and its uses," Chokwan said, adding that applicants are seeking patents for plant-related substances, which are not allowed under Thai law.
According to local media, researchers and civic networks are threatening to sue the government should the patents be granted, and has threatened to stall the legalisation process.
Thailand’s move to allow the use of marijuana for medical and research purposes follows a wave of legalisation across the globe, including in Colombia, Israel, Denmark, Britain and certain US states. Uruguay and Canada have gone one step further and also legalised recreational use.
Malaysia and Singapore are in the early stages of debating whether to legalise medical marijuana, but it is a sensitive issue because the drug remains illegal and taboo across much of Southeast Asia.
The region has some of the world's harshest penalties, including lengthy prison terms for possession of drugs in Thailand, and capital punishment in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia for trafficking. In the Philippines, thousands of people have been killed since 2016 in President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-narcotics crackdown.
Among a handful of foreign companies that are looking to enter the Thai market are British giant GW Pharmaceuticals and Japan's Otsuka Pharmaceutical, which have jointly applied for marijuana-related patents.
For centuries, marijuana has already been used as traditional medicine in Thailand, before it was banned in 1934. Businesses now want to cash in on this legalisation, which Deloitte says could be a global legal medical cannabis market worth more than $50 billion by 2025.
The new law will reclassify marijuana as a narcotic whose extracts can be used in traditional Thai medicine, and to treat drug-resistant epilepsy and pain and nausea in cancer patients.
Research will be permitted into the use of marijuana to treat Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, according to Dr Sophorn Mekthon, chairman of the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation.
"What is most important in the whole debate is the accessibility of medical marijuana to patients," he said.
Source: Bangkok Post