New Thai cannabis law but recreational use is still illegal. Tricky transition period for medical users
The media coverage of the new Thai law on the medical use of cannabis may be misleading for some foreigners in Thailand as well as those visiting the kingdom.
Cannabis remains strictly illegal except for prescribed medical purposes and under the new ‘closed’ system being established under the aegis of Thailand’s Ministry of Health and other government agencies. For those using the drug for medical purposes, there may be merit in seeking a medical prescription if seeking to avail of the new regime.
Doctors and health professionals in Thailand are now being briefed and it is envisaged for now, after the transition process is complete, that the drug will be supplied via the health service in Thailand. However, a lot is still up in the air. Some campaigners who promoted the legalization of the drug for medical use are now calling for a more inclusive and flexible regime. In meantime, cannabis drug dealers and users are facing arrest by Thai police and prosecution despite an imminent amnesty.
One UK foreigner, living in Koh Samui for 22 years, was arrested and fined ฿5,000 in January after testing positive for the drug which he put in his curry. He was stopped at a police checkpoint and urine tested. He was arrested more than a week after that incident for overstaying his visa by 6 days. We explore exactly what is happening with the new cannabis law as Thai authorities now strive to make it work for those in Thailand who need the drug for medical purposes.
The new law making the use of cannabis in Thailand for medical purposes legal is now in effect. However, the Thai police are still prosecuting those dealing in and even using the drug and will continue to do so. An amnesty has been agreed by officials in principle for those who come forward when it is announced. As of now, the amnesty provisions must still be enacted but this is thought to be imminent. Once formally announced, users of cannabis in Thailand will have 90 days to avail of it and declare their status and the quantity of the drug held. Those using it for medical purposes will be allowed keep their stash and be registered for access to a new regime administered by the Thai Ministry of Health. It is reported that recreational users or even dealers will be able to avail of the amnesty also but they will be required to hand in their drugs for destruction. The law is certainly no free for all when it comes to cannabis use.
58 year old businessman and long term resident of Thailand for 22 years being escorted by Thai police after he was arrested on January 16th for cannabis use. He had put the drug in a curry to aid his sleeping and tested positive at a police checkpoint. This Sunday a 47 year old Thai man Joseph Sodsaikij was arrested for the second time this year by Thai police after he delivered a package of cannabis in an undercover sting operation against him by Thonglor police in Bangkok.
Foreigners should understand clearly that despite the new law that became effective last week, the use of cannabis is illegal in Thailand and makes anyone using it subject to prosecution. Even for those with a medical condition, the new law as it is being implemented, will shortly provide an amnesty opportunity but the new cannabis regime will be strictly regulated by Thai authorities and subjects to health professionals.
While there have been calls by some campaigners for a more flexible approach, there is also the imperative placed on Thai officials to ensure that there is no cannabis free for all in Thailand and that the drug continues to be strictly controlled and regulated.
Thailand’s authorities are grappling with the practical problems of implementation following the legalisation of cannabis for medical and research use. The new era became law last week after the Thai King approved the measure and signed it into law. The week before, the Thai Food and Drug Administration, working with other agencies, came forward with an amnesty program aimed at the many Thai people already using the drug for medicinal purposes. This has yet to be formally announced and come into force. 3 legal instruments are being expedited through the legislative process to bring this about.
Status of foreigners in the new cannabis regime in Thailand less clear at this point
However the amnesty, designed to create a point of new departure for the new law and regulatory regime when it does become effective, will cover any Thai national in Thailand in possession of cannabis. The status of foreigners in Thailand is less clear as the new law provides for a seperate regime for foreigners seeking to benefit from what is hoped will be a new area for medical tourism in the kingdom.
Decisions to still be made by Thai authorities managing the transition to legal pot for medical use
In truth, there are many questions raised by the recent decisive move by Thai authorities. Government agencies are now racing to usher in a new era and make the new work for those Thai people who need it for health treatments. One interpretation of the law may be that foreigners living in Thailand are covered by the amnesty but for now, a lot is up in the air. For any foreigner in Thailand or planning to visit Thailand seeking to avail of legal medicinal cannabis, the first step now is to get a doctor to certify and prescribe the drug as a treatment. Any foreigner already using the drug in Thailand for medical purposes may then, possibly, avail of the amnesty when it is formally announced and seek access to the new regime. It should be noted that the applications of these provisions to foreigners living in Thailand has yet to be confirmed.
Thai tobacco monopoly seeking cannabis opportunity but discovers the new law is limited and the crop will be tightly controlled by authorities
In the last few days, the Food and Drug Administration has come out and torpedoed plans by the powerful Thai Tobacco monopoly, now known as TAT, to expand into the business of commercial production of cannabis. The huge concern had expressed an interest in contracting with Thai farmers, anxious themselves to benefit from the new cannabis opportunity to grow the crop together with hemp in their fields. TAT sees cannabis as a potential new income and sales source with which to recoup its projected losses when the government proceeds with its proposed new excise regime on cigarettes shortly in Thailand. This will see the average price of a packet of cigarettes double when fully implemented. Experts generally agree that this will have a huge impact on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products in the kingdom.
The tobacco concern had outlined plans to grow hemp which is a form of cannabis that cannot be used as drug but has other practical applications across a wide variety of uses from the automobile industry to clothing and healthcare products. It is also easier to grow.
Closed medical cannabis regime in Thailand
The plans put forward by the tobacco monopoly must be looked at again however. Thai officials have made it clear that the cultivation of cannabis, hemp and other substances covered by the new law, are specifically for medical and research purposes. The new regime being established will be a ‘closed’ that is one where control of the substances will be rigorously maintained by Thai authorities operating particularly under the Thai Ministry of Health. The Thai Office of Narcotics Control Board and the Food and Drug Administration are currently working with officials to develop the new regime for the drug. For instance, the growth if hemp has already been authorized in up to 15 areas of 6 Thai provinces in the north of Thailand. It is clear that, at this stage in the practical implementation of the new cannabis law, the focus is on medical use by patients and research.
It is not a commercial free for all or bonanza. The Chief Executive of the Food and Drug Administration confirmed on Sunday last that a licence may not be granted for the cultivation of cannabis for commercial use under the current legal regime. The sole aim for now is to facilitate and provide for the practical needs of those needing the drug as a critical health treatment, that is the purpose for which the cannabis legislation was passed. As well as the growing medical need in Thailand, there is also the research into its applications in the future and the potential for medical tourism. Thares Karassanaiyarawiwongsaid, the FDA boss, said in relation to the TAT proposal that the tobacco monopoly can apply for a licence as a grower or as a researcher. There is also provision for a license for the importation of cannabis into Thailand under strict controls.
Drugs control board clarifies licencing for legal cannabis with strict controls and vetting
Thailand’s Office or Narcotics Control Board, which has been the government agency responsible for suppressing the illegal use of drugs in Thailand, has also moved to clarify its understanding of the current situation. It outlines seven types of people or entities who may be eligible for a licence to grow and work with cannabis, hemp, kratom of any substance covered by the new law.
These include state actors involved in research into the drug to allow for proper teaching in the medical field, medical professionals such as doctors, dentists, pharmacists, vets or traditional practitioners, private institutions or organisations who are registered and approved to teach medicine or health therapies including pharmacies, approved community enterprises or cooperatives often made up of farmers, licenced carriers or transnational transport companies or foreign patients who have been prescribed cannabis for health purposes. This latter group also includes Thai nationals traveling abroad but can obviously only apply to jurisdictions where medical cannabis is also legal. Transporting or carrying cannabis while travelling abroad is clearly a very dangerous and ill advised proposition. Indeed there is scope here for difficulties in the future with other jurisdictions.
Cannabis may not be used or sold for non medicinal purposes under the new law
The supremo at the Food and Drug Administration on Sunday also made it clear that the there is a popular misunderstanding about the new law. There is no free for all to grow cannabis, much less to market and sell the substance which is still legally prohibited for recreational use in Thailand. The FDA boss also referred to another popular myth that a multi million baht license could be obtained to deal in the substance.
He did point out, however, that licences are subject to a strict vetting procedure which requires the applicant to submit extensive information on the proposed venture. Any successful applicant will have to show that it is fully aware of the legal responsibilities and has put in place protections to ensure that the licence is not abused and that the drug is retained within the ‘closed’ system which Thai authorities envisage.
Young Thai entrepreneurs sniffing for cannabis opportunity may be disappointed
In the run up the law becoming effective last week, there has been a lot of speculation, particularly among many young budding entrepreneurs in Thailand, about the prospects for the legal cultivation of cannabis. The news at this stage for such hopes is that they are misplaced. This is not all a full liberalisation of the use and sale of cannabis.
Difficult task of transitioning to legal cannabis for medical use for authorities and existing users in Thailand as existing networks supply need
Indeed, Thai police are still enforcing the laws prohibiting the use of the substance. Sunday saw a Thai man arrested for the second time this year for marketing and selling ‘organic’ cannabis. He was arrested in a Thai sting operation (see below). However, there is some confusion about the proposed legal amnesty. The coordination between Thai authorities and an extensive network of individuals and organisations involved in the use of the drug for medical purposes is going to be critical to making this law succeed at its primary purpose. The process of moving into the new era of legally approved cannabis for medical use but under a regulated regime is proving difficult, at this stage, for both authorities and existing Thai medical cannabis users to manage.
The Food and Drug Administration in Thailand is taking the lead in the new role to bring the new regulation and legal regime into force. It has voiced optimism that that this can be achieved. However the body is listening to concerns and doubts being expressed by many who campaigned for the new law and those among the groups of Thai people who need cannabis for health reasons.
Brief and training being circulated for Thai doctors and health professionals on cannabis
One of the measures being undertaken by the body is a special course for Thai doctors who may be involved in prescribing cannabis as a treatment to their patients as the new law has already come into force. A brief has also been published and distributed to health professionals nationwide by the Food and Drug Administration. This was confirmed last week by its Chief Executive. Announcing the moves, Tares Krassanairawiwong said: ‘There are concerns over whether patients will be able to receive treatment without disruption, and on the development of the system, from production and regulations,’ he said.
Food and Drug Administration welcomes feedback
He confirmed that his organization was working to manage the transition until the use of medical cannabis is successfully introduced. The FDA boss said that his organisation welcomes all feedback at this time from those who have an understanding of the situation. It is understood that meetings are ongoing between government bodies and experts to lay the groundwork for the creation of the new legal environment for the cannabis use in Thailand for medicinal purposes.
Key objective is to engineer legal supply of cannabis to those in need controlled by Thai authorities
One of the things that the agency is focusing on is ensuring a new, legal supply of the drug is made available. It is understood that proposals, in this regard, are being studied by the Narcotics Control Board. At the same time, the body is moving so that doctors and all medical practitioners are fully briefed. From what has been said, it appears that these professionals may well become liaison officers between the public and he new cannabis regime which is to be operated under Thailand’s Ministry of Health.
Thai authorities agree on drugs amnesty proposal
The week before last, Thai authorities announced the outline of a wide ranging amnesty on the possession and use of cannabis. It offers an amnesty for all individuals who come forward and declare any cannabis they possess in order to not be prosecuted by law enforcement. It also promised that those who are using the drug for medical purposes will be able to retain their supply of the drug. Those using it for recreation or even commercial purposes will be obliged to hand over the substance to authorities for destruction.
Cannabis amnesty is being finalized legally and will be formally announced by Thai authorities giving users 90 days to avail of it and register
Understandably, there is some reticence by regular medicinal cannabis users towards the proposal. The amnesty will only take effect when announced formally in public. It will be effective for 90 days. Legal instruments are now being pursued to begin this process very quickly. In the meantime, the prosecution of drug offences in Thailand is ongoing but the key concern for many medicinal users, according to one activist who campaigned for the new law, is what happens at the end of the 90 day period? Panthep Puapongpan is the Dean of Rangisit Institute of Integrative Medicine and Anti Aging. ‘In these 90 days, how much restrictions will be imposed on the patients? If this is not clear, they won’t dare come out to register,’ he says. He insists that many cannabis users, using the drug for health reasons, will be put off availing of the amnesty because they are not yet sure of the circumstances where they may avail of a future supply. ‘If there’s not enough, there’s concern that if patients use up their stock, what will happen to them?’
Concern for the future of existing medical cannabis producers and suppliers to sick Thai people
These concerns were echoed by another campaigner for the new law, Thiravat Hemachudha. Thiravat is a well known neurologist at Chulalongkorn University. He has expressed concern for those who have made a life at growing and providing the drug to networks as the drug became more widely accepted as a health benefit and in some cases and for some, a medicinal miracle. For many purusiing this role, it is a vocation to which they are committed. He called for a more open approach to growing the drug. ‘If they want these people to register, they should loosen up the regulations to allow them to cultivate marijuana again,’ he said. However he expressed a fear that the current law, as passed and being implemented, envisages a closed system which will leave these people out in the cold. The campaigner has said that he would like to see a more open regime where individual farmers could be authorized to grow cannabis.
Thai officials looking at making the new law more open and flexible but no firm proposals yet as transitions plans are being finalized
The new law seems quite clear in its approach for now. The handling of cannabis will only be allowed to take place by government organisations, registered health professionals, those in education who are licenced and licenced farming cooperatives approved to cultivate the drug under the control of the Thai Ministry of Health. It is being reported that Thai officials are looking at proposals to possible broaden this, making it more open and flexible. This will, of course, have to be balanced with making sure that the law is not abused and control is enforced.
Legislation for the cannabis amnesty
Meanwhile, laws must be passed to allow the proposed amnesty to come into effect. This is due very shortly. It is envisaged that an announcement will be directed at all those currently working and involved with the drug. The amnesty envisages registering all those using the drug for medical purposes and will allow those individuals to retain their supply until the new closed system begins working through Thailand’s health service. At the same time, that the amnesty was proposes in principle, the boss of the Food and Drug Administration pointed out that the law will have to run its legislative course involving public hearings before the amnesty can take effect.
It is understood that the amnesty provisions are detailed in three legal instruments drawn up by state bodies. Once the formal announcement of the amnesty is made, cannabis users will have 90 days to declare their possession and use of the substance to designated authorities and register for the new regime.
Limited amnesty will apply to all cannabis users in Thailand according to some reports
Significantly, although the recreational use of cannabis and its sale is still highly illegal and likely to land you in jail in Thailand, it is reported that the 90 day amnesty will apply to all individuals in possession of the drug who come forward. The drug will remain illegal after the amnesty expires and those who fail to come forward can be prosecuted as before. The aim of the new regime is to allow those who need the drug to use it in a new legal environment for conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and a range of medical disorders. The drug itself is still viewed internationally as a gateway drug to other forms of drug abuse. Some recent studies have linked continuous use of the drug to mental disorders. However, among many of the younger generation in western countries there is a clamor to completely legalize cannabis. It is a contentious topic although some countries have taken the step notably Uruguay, Canada and some US states.
Thai junta terminates cannabis patent applications
It is quite clear now that this is not the free for all intimated by many headline writers and news publications before the law came into effect. The use of cannabis legally in Thailand will be limited to patients who are registered and prescribed the drug by medical professionals. The drug will be supplied through Thailand’s health system. Thailand’s authorities have also moved to block patent applications from foreign firms interested in exploring a new and more open dispensation in Thailand. In January, the Thai military junta used its sweeping powers under what is known as Section 44, to terminate a range of applications from foreign companies for commercial patents to control variations of the drug and certain processes. The promoters of the new law see this initiative as a means to provide safe and inexpensive cannabis to those in Thailand who need the drug for health reasons. Recreational use of cannabis is still illegal as is the commercial sale of the drug.
Thai man arrested for second time this year selling cannabis in police sting operation
Thai police on Sunday last arrested a former teacher at an international school for selling cannabis. This was the second time 47 year old Joseph Sodsaikij has been arrested this year for the sale of his ‘organic’ cannabis. In January, a huge police raid on the man’s home took place in the Din Daeng area of Bangkok. The premises was described as a cannabis factory and the arrest was extensively featured on the media.
Police raided ex teacher’s apartment in Bangkok’s Phayathai area after his arrest for selling cannabis and found 43.3 grams of the crystal meth drug
This arrest this weekend came in a sting operation mounted by Thai police from Thonglor police station. Mr Sodsaikij was arrested at a shopping mall in Sukhumvit Soi 55 area as he delivered a 12.6 gram cannabis package to an undercover policeman.
Thai police later raided and searched a rented room in Bangkok’s Phayathai area. There, they discovered a stash of 43.3 grams of the crystal meth drug along with packaging materials and facilities.
Charges still pending from January raid and arrest
The man’s arrest on January 4th last took place near the headquarters of Thailand’s Office of Narcotics Control in Din Daeng and police uncovered a range of equipment and installations for growing hundreds of cannabis plants. It is understood that the 47 year old is still facing charges in relation to that incident. At the time of his arrest in January, that accused man was reported to have admitted his cannabis growing activities which Thai police reported that he had advertised extensively through Facebook. His business had lead him to quit his job as a teacher at an international school in Bangkok prior to the first arrest.
It is reported that this latest arrest of Mr Sodsaikij comes as he was on bail pending the earlier charges coming before the Thai courts. He explained to police that he was selling cannabis as it was as his sole source of income. He also claimed that the quantity of crystal meth seized by police at his Phayathai home on Sunday was purely for personal use.
UK man arrested after testing for cannabis when he put drug in his curry to help him sleep
The prohibition on the use of cannabis for non medical us is still being stringently enforced in Thailand. On the 16th of January, a 58 year old UK business man who has lived in Thailand for 22 years was arrested by Thai police when his erratic behaviour led him to be tested for drugs. He was arrested when he was found to have consumed cannabis which he admitted he had mixed with his shrimp curry for dinner. The UK man explained to Thai police that he used the substance, which he obtained from a Thai friend, to assist him with sleeping. He was later fined ฿5,000 by a Thai court for the offence. More than week later however, on the 24th of January, the UK man was arrested again by Thai immigration police when he was found to have overstayed his visa by 6 days.