Thailand: Letting companies grow hemp commercially will create a monopoly

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The government's plan to let privately owned companies grow hemp commercially has progressed smoothly for the past two years as part of a three-year trial.

However, BioThai Foundation has said that giving specific companies the right to plant hemp was unfair, adding that farmers should be allowed to grow this cash crop as well. 

Niyom Termsrisuk, secretary-general of the Office of the Narcotics Control Board, announced yesterday that the progress of the hemp-plantation initiative in six northern provinces had shown no problems, so far. 

It added that hemp is good for producing omega-acid rich oil, while hemp fibre can be used for making textiles. 

“Since hemp is still part of the Category 5 narcotics list, because it contains a high volume of cannabidiol [CBD], we cannot let farmers grow hemp as yet. However, once the three-year trial is completed by the end of next year, we will reconsider allowing private firms to grow hemp as a cash crop,” Niyom said. 

He said that as of now, only official agencies are allowed to grow hemp in the tribe-development zones in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Nan, Tak, Mae Hong Son and Phetchabun provinces. 

However, the plan to allow only private firms to grow hemp was opposed by Biothai Foundation director Witoon Lianchamroon, who pointed out that this selective legalisation opened the way for unjust monopoly. 

“Though I’m happy that the government is finally allowing the commercial farming of hemp, only allowing private firms to benefit from this legalisation is unacceptable. Ordinary farmers should also be allowed to grow hemp as a cash crop,” Witoon said. 

In a related development, Dr Surachoke Tangwiwat, deputy secretary-general of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said his agency has approved 175 medical staff to be added to the list of doctors and pharmacists who have been given the right to prescribe marijuana-based medicines. 

Surachoke added that 172 traditional Thai medicine practitioners have also successfully registered as persons who can prescribe cannabinoid medication and that these names will be published on FDA’s website by next Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, the cannabis crop at the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation’s (GPO) closed-system farm is nearly ready for harvesting and producing medicines.

Dr Sophon Mekthon, chairman of the GPO board of directors, said 140 cannabis plants at the farm in Pathum Thani had started budding and will be ready for harvesting in 10 to 12 weeks. 

“Once the buds are ready to harvest by the end of July, we will begin trials with three types of cannabis extracts and will produce 2,500 bottles of cannabis oil,” Sophon said. “However, specialists still need to closely monitor the growth of cannabis, because this is the first time for us to grow our own medical-grade cannabis, which requires intensive care.”

The 5ml bottles of oil from the first crop will be distributed to patients in the Medical Services Department’s cannabinoid drug’s clinical trial project. 

GPO managing director Dr Withoon Danwiboon explained that female cannabis plants, which have the greatest “medical” properties, will be selected for extracting the oil by first drying out the buds, extracting the cannabinoid juice with ethanol, and then |diluting it.

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