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Cannabis move ‘a boon for pharma giants’

Dec 26. 2018
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By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
THE NATION

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Activists say medication will become unaffordable for Thais, commerce ministry vows to review patents after holidays.

LEGALISING CANNABIS for medical use is a New Year’s gift to transnational pharmaceutical companies, not the Thai public, activists said yesterday. 

BioThai Foundation and FTA Watch insisted again yesterday that all patent applications for cannabis-based medications be removed from the Department of Intellectual Property (DIP)’s system within a month. Their argument is that local research agencies will not be able to develop cannabis-based medicines and Thai patients will end up having to rely on expensive versions created by international pharmaceutical giants. 

Withoon Lienchamroon, director of Biothai Foundation, said Thailand was running out of time to solve issues related to patents for cannabis-based drugs, and insisted that all problematic applications on cannabinoid medications had to be removed before the newly amended Narcotic Drugs Act is enforced. 

The National Legislative Assembly approved the limited use of cannabis and kratom for medical purposes on Christmas Day. 

“This is our last chance to solve the problem of patent registration in order to ensure full benefits for Thai society from this progressive reform,” Withoon said. “Even though the government seems to have realised the seriousness of the problem and is implying that it will not enforce this law until the cannabis patent problem is solved, we feel they are too slow in tackling this issue.” 

Hence, he said, the Commerce Ministry should set up a committee that includes representatives from the academic and public sectors to urgently and transparently deal with this problem within a month. 

Clear timeframe needed

“We want the ministry to set up a clear timeframe and roadmap to tackle the patent issue. We also strongly urge the government to not use the absolute power of Article 44 to solve this problem, because it is not recognised internationally and pharmaceutical giants can sue the country,” he warned. 

BioThai Foundation said in a statement that even though many organisations and academic institutions have been actively protesting against the patents, not one of the 10 patent applications in DIP’s system have been removed, including the three applications that had been reportedly rejected. 

If the issue is not dealt with in time, BioThai cautioned that the owners of these patents will end up using Thailand’s own intellectual property protection laws to hinder local cannabis medicine development efforts. Patent holders can protect their innovation under Article 35 of the Intellectual Property Protection Act.

Biothai also said that once the patents are approved, international pharmaceutical giants will have absolute control over the manufacturing, distribution and sales of their cannabis-based medicines, which will force Thai patients to rely on expensive, imported cannabis-based medication. 

Meanwhile, Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong said his ministry will discuss the issue with related agencies after the New Year period to find a solution to this problem. 

“There is a total of 31 patent applications for cannabis medicines in our system and we need to thoroughly check these applications to see which ones are eligible. This process can be time-consuming,” Sontirat said.

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