By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
MORE LEGAL measures to further liberalise medical cannabis are required, campaigners stressed, so as to ensure that patients can freely and easily access affordable and quality cannabinoid medicines.
Even though Thailand has already legalised the use of cannabis for medical purpose since February, medical experts and prominent politicians cautioned that there were still many legal problems obstructing the general public from gaining full benefit from medical cannabis legalisation.
They said that unless the government and relevant official agencies came out with additional legislative reform and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) used the special power under Article 44 of the interim charter to unlock these legal obstructions, the patients may have to rely on expensive imported medicines and may even face persecution for illegal use of cannabis.
Three major legal obstacles were identified: excessively high qualifications and standards for those permitted to grow cannabis and produce medicines from it; a complicated registration process for patients and medical practitioners using cannabinoid medicines; and lack of clarity from the authorities on how it would deal with those who fail to apply for permission to legally use cannabis for medical purpose within the set deadline.
Newin Chidchob, Bhumjaithai Party co-founder and president of Thai football league’s Buriram United, said on Saturday that though the recent medical cannabis legalisation had opened up huge opportunities for Thai society to enhance its healthcare standards with affordable and effective medicines from cannabis and gain substantial profit by developing cannabinoid medicines and other products from cannabis.
However, Newin emphasised that currently the reformed laws on medical cannabis legalisation are far from perfect and even have the potential to cause more problems in the future.
“The most urgent issue on medical cannabis right now is that even though the 90-day amnesty period allowing patients using cannabinoid medicines to register for official permission to use medical cannabis will end on May 19, only a few patients have shown up for registration,” he addressed.
He said it is estimated that at least 1 million patients were covertly using cannabinoid medicines in Thailand, but according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as of last Monday only 1,053 patients had registered to seek permission to possess and use cannabinoid medicines.
“I am very concerned that when the deadline for medical cannabis registration ends, a large number of patients, who are still not registered with the FDA, will be at risk of being arrested for possessing cannabis illegally because the current narcotics law still considers cannabis an illicit drug,” Newin said.
Patients keeping away
“Therefore, I would like to urge the Public Health Ministry and Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha to urgently come out with a measure to tackle this problem by issuing an NCPO order to protect these patients from being prosecuted and allow them to continue using cannabinoid medication for their treatment.”
Newin, who was also co-hosting the medical cannabis fair “Pan Buriram”, revealed that the medical cannabis registration one-stop-service centre was open at the fair’s venue at the Chang International Circuit from Friday until yesterday for the convenience of patients attending the fair.
According to the Buri Ram Provincial Public Health Office, more than 6,000 people showed up at the one-stop-service centre on the first two days of the event, while 2,724 of them obtained the permission.
The lack of information to the public on registration as well as the complicated registration procedure were blamed by many patients as the major reasons for the low registration rate of the patients, who are using cannabis as medicine.
Anucha Sukniran, a cannabinoid medicine user from Nakhon Pathom province, disclosed that he had tried to register for use of medical cannabis in his province, but failed because of difficulties in the required documents.
“It was quite hard to register for cannabis usage in my hometown, as I did not get proper information on how to prepare the documents and where to go to submit the application, so I attended the fair to learn more about medical cannabis and registered here instead,” Anucha said.
“I am glad that the government has finally legalised the use of cannabis for medical purpose, as I am now relying on a cannabis extract to relieve chronic insomnia, which has greatly improved the quality of my life.”
Meanwhile, traditional cannabis medicine producer, Bantoon Niyamapa, widely known as “Lung Tu”, also pointed out that the current FDA regulations on the qualifications of eligible persons, organisations or institutes that can apply for the permission to plant cannabis and produce cannabinoid medicines are too strict. He said this would eventually prevent ordinary citizens from accessing cheap cannabinoid medicines.
“The most important thing we need to ensure after legalising medical cannabis is to guarantee that people can get affordable and effective medicines, which can be done by allowing all people to grow cannabis and use it as herbal medicine at their home,” Bantoon said.
“It is the fundamental right of all people to have easy access to their required medicines. I am trying to promote this right by educating people to grow their own cannabis and learn how to use it as medicine, but the laws are still the main obstacle.”
He cautioned that the excessively high qualifications for official permission to grow and produce medicines from cannabis favour giant transnational pharmaceutical corporates to monopolise the Thai cannabinoid medicine market, which will eventually force people to rely on their expensive imported medicines.