Cannabis (also known as marijuana) and hemp have been classified as a category 5 narcotic under the Narcotics Act since 1979. All activities related to the plants and their derivatives had been very much restricted until the recent rise of the cannabis legalization movement—its first milestone being Amendment (No. 7) to the Narcotics Act, effective February 19, 2019. The Thai government has since been working to reclassify the products and lay out the regulatory pathways to accommodate these new “economic plants.”
Most of the product classifications discussed here are based upon the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, and upon the presence of cannabidiol (CBD) in the products. Generally speaking, THC is a psychoactive substance with fewer medical applications, while CBD is not psychotropic and has more medical applications. A higher THC content is therefore associated with a greater risk of abuse, and thus stricter regulations apply. Under the most recent legal amendments, Thai law defines cannabis as plants in the Cannabis genus, and hemp as Cannabis sativa L. subsp. sativa having no more than 1.0 % THC by dry weight in its leaves and inflorescence.
The key regulator of cannabis- and hemp-related products is the Thai Food and Drug Administration (Thai FDA), a government agency operating under supervision of the Ministry of Public Health. Working closely with the Narcotics Control Committee, the Thai FDA is mainly responsible for granting and administering licenses and post-marketing control, among others. Representatives of the Thai FDA also sit on most of the national policymaking committees.
The Thai government considers cannabis legalization a complex task affecting diverse groups of stakeholders. Notable stakeholders include parties involved in both upstream and downstream production, healthcare professionals, hospitals, consumers or patients, and regulatory authorities, both in Thailand and overseas. Traditional medicine practitioners are an additional and particularly influential group of stakeholders, unique to Thailand, as they utilize longstanding traditional formulations containing cannabis.
The Thai government has adopted a protective stance toward Thai stakeholders—especially during the first stage of cannabis legalization, which runs until 2024. During this first stage licenses with respect to cannabis will only be granted to state agencies, and therefore a private entity or group of farmers is only eligible for a cannabis license if they operate jointly with a state agency. This requirement does not apply to the hemp licensing framework, wherein a private entity may apply for and hold a hemp license independently.