Across the world, countries are revisiting their laws on the use of cannabis. For some countries, such as Canada and Uruguay, the legalization of the use of cannabis extends to non-medical purposes, including recreational use. For a number of other countries, such legalization has been limited to medical use only. The move to legalize cannabis for non-medical purposes is a direction being debated in light of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the 1972 Protocol, which places obligations upon State Parties to limit the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution, trade, use and possession of drugs exclusively to medical and scientific purposes.

Amidst these developments, Thailand has become the first nation in Southeast Asia to allow the use of cannabis for medical use and research with the amendment to the Narcotics Act, legalizing licensed possession of cannabis for medical purposes, as of 19 February 2019.

The amended Narcotics Act now allows certain types of entities and organizations to apply for and obtain licenses to manufacture, import, export, distribute, and possess cannabis (“Narcotics type no. 5”) for medical purposes, treatment of patients, and research and development. The amendment also includes provisions to allow responsible government agencies to issue further Royal Decree(s) outlining the areas where Narcotics type no. 5 can be grown, manufactured, tested, used, and possessed. Manufacturers are also required to comply with specific conditions provided in the amended Narcotics Act.

In this regard, the Ministry of Public Health has issued three ministerial notifications to date to impose criteria, procedures, and conditions related to those in possession of Narcotics type no. 5 before the amended Narcotic Act became effective. These notifications exempt certain groups from penalties for possession of Narcotics type no. 5, if they comply with the requirements under the regulations. Notably among these are:

  • patients for whom it is necessary to use Narcotics type no. 5 for medical reasons; and
  • organizations or individuals whose possession of Narcotics type no. 5 is for medical and research purposes.

The ministerial regulations specify conditions and timeline for the aforementioned groups to comply in regard to the exemption of penalties.

The amendment of the Narcotic Act to legalize the use of cannabis for medical purposes would likely have come sooner, had there not been some concerns over cannabis-related patent applications. There were concerns raised by academics and the public sector over the cannabis-related patent applications which were already filed pending the approval of the amended Narcotic Act, which would possibly limit, prohibit or restrict others from utilizing cannabis or cannabis extracts. To address these concerns, on 28 January 2019, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) issued an order to amend the Thai Patent Act to exclude cannabis-related inventions from patentability for commercial purposes. The NCPO’s Order stipulates that once the amended Narcotic Act is enacted, the non-patentability provision will expire.

In the initial trial period, after the amended Narcotic Act became effective, private entities wishing to operate businesses related to research and development of cannabis production can seek collaborations with state agencies. In any case, all steps must meet the regulatory controls and requirements under the Thai FDA and International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), mandated to monitor and support the government’s compliance with the three international drug control treaties.

This post originally appeared in the Journal of The American Chamber Of Commerce In Thailand and is reprinted on our blog by permission of the author and AMCHAM Thailand.


Peerapan Tungsuwan is a partner in and Head of the Healthcare Industry Group of Baker McKenzie’s Bangkok office.