In a region of the world where penalties for marijuana trafficking can even include the death penalty, Thailand just became the first Southeast Asian country to legalize marijuana for both research and medicinal use. The chairman of the drafting committee, Somchai Sawangkarn, stated, “This is a New Year’s gift from the National Legislative Assembly to the government and the Thai people,” according to CNBC.
Thailand’s History of Herbal Medicine
As early as the 3rd century B.C., Hindu Brahmins and Buddhist Monks ventured to Thailand, bringing with them new religious beliefs as well as a holistic approach to healing. This pseudo-medical philosophy included “internal, external, and psycho-spiritual disciplines, or herbal potions, massage, and meditation.”
At the base of it all, traditional Thai healers believe that in order to be healthy in mind and spirit, one must have a balance of earth, wind, fire, and water. It goes without saying that three out of the four elements are required to produce cannabis, and the fourth can be used to consume it. It’s no wonder that until the 1930s, marijuana was commonly used as herbal medicine.
Unanimously Pro-Pot Parliament
To be made official law upon publication in the Royal Gazette, the new amendment will legalize the “production, import, export, possession and use of cannabis” for medicinal purposes.” It should be noted that retailers, cultivators, processors, and researchers will all need licenses to handle medical marijuana, while patients will need to get prescriptions.
This major step forward makes many hopeful that this will open the doors for recreational cannabis legalization in the future, in a path similar to Canada’s. With neighboring nations like Malaysia sentencing some marijuana criminals to death by hanging, we don’t expect to see recreational legalization in Thailand for quite some time.
In the meantime, one of the most important factors regarding marijuana legalization in Thailand remains the rights to valuable intellectual property that, if owned by foreign companies, could make it more difficult for Thai researchers and patients looking to use and access the substance.
A Battle Over Pot Patents
While Thailand’s framework for protecting and respecting intellectual property still leaves much to be desired, it has improved tremendously in recent years.
Since Thailand is a party to the two international agreements on Intellectual Property, namely the TRIPs Agreement and WIPO, Thailand generally complies with international intellectual property standards established by the agreements.
That being said, the International Trade Administration still recommends that foreign I.P. right owners should consider obtaining protection in Thailand before introducing their products or services to the Thai market. This is why cannabis-related companies around the globe have sought out protection in Thailand specifically.
The downside for the domestic cannabis market of awarding I.P. protection rights to outsiders is that due to the high volume of patent requests from foreign firms looking to protect their cannabis I.P. in Thailand, many folks within the country are worried that, if approved, the patents “could allow them to dominate the market.”
That’s where things start to get dicey. Panthep Puapongpan, Dean of the Rangsit Institute of Integrative Medicine and Anti-Aging said that they’re “going to demand that the government revoke all these requests before the law takes effect.”
Implications of an I.P. Clawback
In December 2017, the Office of the United States Trade Representative moved Thailand off of its Special 301 Priority Watch List after an out-of-cycle review. If the Thai government were to revoke these patent requests, the country stands a good chance of being placed back onto that bad-behavers list alongside countries like China and Saudi Arabia.
For those who are not familiar with the USTR’s Special 301 Priority Watch List, it is essentially a list of “trading partners that do not adequately or effectively protect and enforce intellectual property rights or otherwise deny market access to U.S. innovators and creators that rely on protection of their IP rights.”
Placement on the Special 301 Priority Watch List usually leads to heavy tariffs and trade restrictions for the countries that are on it. With the Thai economy stalling, that’s the last thing they need. In the interim, be sure to subscribe to cannabis news updates here so you never miss an important update.
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