Thailand’s Allowances for Low-THC Cannabis, Hemp Extracts Signal Global Aspirations

By William SumnerHemp Business Journal Contributor

While Europe and North America scramble toward unleashing the potential of the hemp industry, other regions of the world are making small, but substantial, steps towards joining them in the marketplace. Earlier this month, Thailand’s Public Health Ministry announced that seeds and oils extracted from hemp would be removed from its list of controlled substances, i.e., Category 5 of the Narcotics Act.

Thailand maintains some of the world’s harshest drug laws, though the nation’s stance on hemp and cannabis has been softening over the last several years.

In 2018, Thailand defined hemp as legally distinct from cannabis (for containing less than 0.2% THC), and enacted its first regulations to allow government agencies or entities collaborating with the government to apply for hemp cultivation permits. Those registered may only grow hemp in one of Thailand’s six northern provinces: Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Nan, Phetchabun, or Tak.

Additionally, Thailand legalized medical cannabis in December 2018, though recreational use remains a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Under the new regulation, hemp extracts containing a CBD: THC ratio not exceeding 0.01% to 0.2% by weight can be used in herbal products and pharmaceuticals. Dried hemp bark, stems, fibers, and seeds can also be used in traditional medicines, cosmetics, and food products. Individuals may not grow or possess hemp plants, and only licensed producers may use hemp or its derivatives in products.

While the new rules are restrictive when compared to other countries, Secretary-General Tares Krassanairawiwong of the Thai Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told reporters that the agency is working towards crafting regulations to help turn hemp into a cash crop and allow the greater use of CBD in food and cosmetic products.

Should the Thai FDA follow through with its goals, the country Thailand could turn into a regional leader for hemp production. Throughout the rest of Southeast Asia, hemp and cannabis remain strictly illegal. Even in China, where hemp has been cultivated for thousands of years, the government has been reluctant in embracing hemp’s full potential as a nutritional supplement and source for CBD.

While the Thai consumer market for hemp and CBD is practically nonexistent, the potential for explosive growth is undeniable. Approximately 13 million Thai citizens suffer from debilitating medical conditions treatable with either medical cannabis or hemp-derived CBD.

As discussed in New Frontier’s Asia-Pacific Hemp Brief: 2018 Industry Overview, the success of Thailand’s experiment with legal hemp will depend significantly on how fast the government can roll out new regulations and ramp up production.

If Thailand’s national experiments with medical cannabis legalization, hemp, and global CBD exportation is successful, other countries in the region will predictably follow suit. Canada is expected to be a major exporter of CBD, but would be challenged over the long run to compete with Southeast Asian prices.

Last year, the Thai Government Pharmaceutical Organization launched a pilot program for extraction, with the intention of becoming a global leader in cultivating the cannabinoid for mass production. Its Southeast Asian neighbors are watching.

William Sumner

William Sumner is a writer for the hemp and cannabis industry. Hailing from Panama City, Florida, William covers various topics such as hemp legislation, investment, and business. William’s writing has appeared in publications such as Green Market Report, Civilized, and MJINews. You can follow William on Twitter: @W_Sumner.