Is Thailand now ready to legalize marijuana plantations for medical use? In recent days both legislators and state officials have been in the news after coming out to voice their support for cannabis cultivation for limited use within the medical realm.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Wiwat Salayakamthorn said he agreed with the idea of legalizing the cultivation of the narcotic plant purely for medical research and medicinal use.
Marijuana should be regarded as a herbal plant that is useful for drug manufacturing, according to Mr Wiwat.
Mr Wiwat made his comments after the National Farmers Council (NFC) earlier encouraged the government to legalize marijuana cultivation for medical research and use.
The council’s move came after a regulation on the cultivation of hemp, or Kanchong, in designated areas for medical research purposes was published in the Royal Gazette on Jan 6.
He said a study should be conducted on the potential benefits, both medical and also in terms of revenue, and drawbacks of changing the laws governing the cultivation of marijuana.
Thailand risks losing the opportunity to become an early Asian adopter of a more relaxed approach to policy governing the drug that is already sweeping through large swathes of the western world, especially the United States, he added.
“Marijuana holds medicinal properties. There have been many studies on the use of this in the medical field, and it has been long been accepted that kratom, opium and marijuana can be used in the production of medicines,” he said.
Mr Wiwat said physicians have often used drugs derived from these plants to treat their patients while they have also played a role in traditional medicines used by villagers over the past decades, particularly in China.
China has seen a rapid expansion in the manufacture of herbal medicines. These traditional drugs are also exported overseas as well, and bring in large amounts of revenue to the country.
As for Thailand, Mr Wiwat said local wisdom in the area of herbal medicine has been around for years. However, the production of certain domestic drugs in Thailand hit legal snags which resulted in a ban on the manufacture of several types of medicines.
“Today, many laws govern which medicines can be produced in Thailand. Besides, some international trade agreements also limit our freedom to produce our own drugs,” he said.
NFC president Prapat Panyachartrak on Monday also confirmed that the council discussed designating an area for marijuana cultivation with the Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB).
They have initially looked at 5,000 rai of land on a military compound in Sakon Nakhon, where marijuana plantations could be easily monitored and regulated.
Sakon Nakhon was selected due to its conducive climate and the fertility of the soil along the Phu Phan Mountain range.
After this news broke, Witthaya Chanchalong, Sakhon Nakhon’s governor, insisted the province had no such plans and had heard nothing from the government regarding the matter.
However, besides Mr Wiwat, Chaimongkol Chairob, president of the Sakon Nakhon Provincial Administrative Organization, on Thursday voiced support for cannabis cultivation in the region, saying the crop can be used in producing medicines to treat or alleviate the symptoms of several ailments, such as cancer and diabetes.
In particular, he highlighted how useful marijuana is in combating the debilitating effects of the chemotherapy used to treat many types of cancer.
Legalizing cannabis cultivation would help lessen the amount of medicines imported from overseas, said Mr Wiwat, who is among a group physicians and farmers who are urging the government to make marijuana cultivation legal for medical use.
In June last year, a committee supervising the laws on methamphetamine, chaired by deputy permanent secretary for justice Pol Col Dusadee Arayawuth, agreed to implement new regulations to allow the cultivation of hemp as an economic crop.
The cultivation of the plant is allowed in designated areas in 23 districts of nine provinces under the supervision of the provincial narcotics control management centers.
As for marijuana, the committee agreed to move the drug to the fifth tier of the controlled narcotics list in order to pave the way for its use in medical research.
Legalizing cultivation of the drug for particular medical purposes forms part of a draft update of the narcotics code which is now being contemplated by the Office of the Council of State.