PRIME MINISTER Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday intervened amid growing controversy over patents for medical marijuana, using his special powers to authorise suspension of patent applications under review.
Critics of the process have complained that the high number of patent applications from abroad showed that foreign pharmaceutical corporations were seeking to monopolise Thailand’s fledgling medical-marijuana business.
Thailand is the first Asian country to give the green light for legalising medical marijuana, joining a global market projected to be worth $62.9 billion (Bt1.98 trillion) by 2024, according to Zion market research.
Prayut yesterday issued a special order under Article 44 of the charter to empower the Intellectual Property Rights Department (IPD) to suspend applications for medicinal marijuana patents now under review. The agency currently has seven pending applications.
The move will also facilitate new efforts to conduct research and development on cannabis-based drugs within Thailand.
However, the agency will have the right to review questionable applications within 90 days while the applicant can appeal against its decision. A committee will be responsible for reviewing these applications and also hearing any appeals. Witoon Lienchamroon of Biothai said the Article 44 order granted the government authority to suspend patent applications on legal grounds as officials were concerned over legal validity.
In his opinion, the special order does not directly nullify patent applications.
The country has already enacted legal amendments to allow use of cannabis ingredients in medicine. The government also plans to promote the domestic market for cannabis-based medicines.
Civic organisations first sounded the alarm after discovering that all cannabis-related applications filed for patents with the IPD came from foreign companies, raising suspicion that the rush to legalise marijuana may have been designed to grant a monopoly among certain groups.
Last month, the National Legislative Assembly passed a law that will legalise medical marijuana, prompting non-governmental groups to question whether the bill was rushed through for the benefit of certain business interests.
With some firms having already prepared medicinal marijuana patent applications in advance, concerns that a monopoly is brewing grew. The patent process has been dogged by controversy ever since. Among the patent applications are those filed by British biopharmaceutical company GW Pharma and Japan’s Otsuka, reportedly related to the use of marijuana for epilepsy and cancer.