THAILAND WILL be able to start using marijuana to treat medical conditions from January onwards, if the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation’s (GPO) suggestion is taken up.
Marijuana has until now been considered a narcotic, with possession and use considered criminal and punishable by a jail term.
However, authorities have lately concluded that patients can benefit from marijuana, whose extracts can be used to treat various diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cancer.
Several draft laws have been prepared to legalise marijuana for medical use, but that might not be the best approach to give patients access to its medical ingredients.
“The fastest way to deliver marijuana’s medicinal benefits can be done via a Food and Drug Administration [FDA] announcement,” Dr Sopon Mekthon said yesterday in his capacity as chairman of the GPO and adviser to Public Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn.
He said if Piyasakol next month signed an FDA announcement declaring marijuana legal for medical purposes, extracts would be ready for use from early next year.
Speaking at a forum held at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Law, Sopon said the FDA announcement would be even faster than Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha invoking Article 44.
Deputy Prime Minister ACM Prajin Juntong has been looking into the possibility of Article 44 being invoked to move forward the Drug Bill to legalise medical cannabis.
“I have heard that the idea will be proposed to the prime minister on October 19,” Sopon said. “But even if the bill is fast-tracked via Article 44, it will take another three months at least to prepare related draft laws for the legalisation of marijuana’s medical use.”
Late last month, the GPO received 100 kilos of cannabis for research and development in anticipation that medical marijuana would soon be legalised.
“In the first phase, we will conduct research at GPO headquarters’ labs,” Sopon said yesterday.
In the second phase, the GPO will install machinery at its Rangsit plant to extract marijuana’s active ingredients for semi-industrial production, he added.
“In the third phase, the production will be done at an industrial level. Our facilities will cover 1,500 rai [240 hectares] in Chon Buri province with cannabis farms, extraction processes, research and learning centres,” he said.
Law lecturer Asst Professor Kanongnij Sribua-iam said the Drug Bill would not be a useful approach to legalising therapeutic marijuana because its main focus was on banning illicit drugs.
“For the benefit of patients in the long run, Thailand should introduce a specific law about marijuana,” she said.
Professor Dr Thiravat Hemachudha, a senior medical lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, said Britain took just six weeks to effectively legalise marijuana.
“So, we should do it fast too,” he said.
He pointed out that about 200,000 Alzheimer’s patients, 150,000 Parkinson’s patients and many more cancer patients could benefit from marijuana’s active ingredients.