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9 May 2024
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Fixing Thailand”s cannabis regulations

When cannabis was removed from the Narcotics Code in 2021, widespread, unregulated usage sparked a public outcry, calling for immediate governmental intervention to rectify the situation.

Three years have passed, and cannabis remains in a regulatory vacuum.

Two draft bills have been sent to parliament to address these concerns, but there remains no sign that parliament will approve either of them.

Any attempt to regulate cannabis under this administration must address old legal loopholes and strengthen oversight measures to prevent abuse.

Although the government asserts that it has regulations in place, glaring loopholes remain in three key areas: cultivation, processing, and retail, which have left the general population to believe they can grow and use cannabis freely.

Firstly, in the cultivation sector, the regulations for commercial and household cultivation remain opaque. In commercial cultivation, there is no guidance on how growers can cultivate the plant freely. The 2021 ministerial regulations require a permit in the case of producing, importing, exporting, distributing, and possessing cannabis.

In household cultivation, the Ministry of Public Health only requires growers to register in the “Pluk Gan” application without specifying rules on the number of plants or the place of cultivation that could cause public nuisance.

Secondly, in the processing sector, there is a lack of effective follow-up inspection procedures for cannabis that is used to make edible products, especially some drinks and sweets, such as cookies and brownies. That being said, although producers are required to send product samples to the Food and Drug Administration for pre-production approval, some producers — once they get the green light — can either intentionally or unintentionally exceed the legal standards when using cannabis. This is possible because there are no inspections conducted after official approval.

Finally, safety control over cannabis sales is weak. For example, cannabis flowers are labelled as controlled medicinal herbs, banned from sale to minors, and smoked without supervision from medical practitioners.

Regulations on the use of cannabis flowers and cannabis extract are inconsistent.

The law forbids cannabis extract with over 0.2% THC (as it is addictive) but allows the sale of cannabis flowers as controlled medicinal herbs, although some of them might exceed the THC safety limit, which poses health risks.

Furthermore, legal enforcement of cannabis use is ineffective because it involves too many state agencies that do not collaborate with each other. For example, while the Food and Drug Administration is in charge of inspecting illicit cannabis use and halting sales of edibles surpassing legal THC limits, the Office of Narcotics Control Board regulates cannabis extracts exceeding 0.2% THC.

Additionally, while the Provincial Public Health Office oversees cannabis nursery permits, the Local Administrative Organisations handle community complaints despite not being involved in the initial nursery permitting process.

To close legal loopholes and strengthen regulatory measures, state agencies must amend rules and regulations for safe cannabis use. For instance, cannabis growers should obtain permits for commercial use for medicinal purposes that are officially approved for certain diseases only.

Applicants must also meet strict criteria, which include Thai citizenship, a minimum age of 20, no history of drug abuse, and a map of the cultivation site. The area must have safety measures, including fences, warning signs, and wastewater treatment systems. Zoning rules must be in place to ensure that cultivation sites are kept away from communities and schools.

For retail shops, they must obtain sales permits for medical purposes rather than for recreational purposes. Cannabis sales should adhere to legal obligations not less than those of alcoholic beverages. Zoning rules should specify the distance between cannabis retail shops and areas frequented by children and youth.

As for personal possession of ganja, users should obtain doctor’s prescriptions for medical use, specifying the allowed quantity.

To minimise negative impacts on the youth population, the government should scrap rules that allow cannabis to be grown in households. Using cannabis in ready-to-eat foods, including beverages, noodle dishes, cookies, jelly, and brownies, should also be prohibited.

For non-edible products, such as cosmetics and massage oil, packaging must be tightly sealed, include relevant warnings, and specify the amount of cannabis so that consumers can make informed choices before purchasing.

Relevant regulatory agencies must also establish better collaboration with clear legal responsibilities. For instance, local administrative organisations should be involved in issuing permits for cannabis cultivation and retail shops, in addition to addressing public nuisances from cannabis use. They may consider establishing local complaint centres.

The officials under the Anti-Narcotics Control Board should also beef up their inspections for cannabis extracts containing more than 0.2% THC and pursue legal courses more strictly.

A comprehensive cannabis control law is essential. It must address existing loopholes, foster responsible cannabis use, and mitigate adverse impacts. With strict rules in place, we can ensure people know how to use cannabis safely and foster a responsible cannabis industry. Only then can we unlock its medicinal benefits for everyone.

Writer : Kiratipong Naewmalee, PhD, is a Senior Research Fellow, and Chanisara Dumkum is a researcher for law reform at TDRI

This article is part of the research ‘Situation Assessment and Policy Recommendations to Mitigate Adverse Impacts on Health, Economy, and Society from Cannabis and Related Products’, supported by the Research Steering Committee on Critical National Issues, Thailand Science Research and Innovation, and the National Research Council of Thailand.

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Kiratipong Naewmalee, Ph.D.
Senior Research Fellow

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