Although it may appear that the progress of cannabis liberalization may not seem to move as fast as most investors expect, from the experience of seeing the changes or drafting of the new laws which give significant impact to the industry or the public, we can say that the progress we have seen so far as from the time when this government came on board on 10 July 2019 has been quite impressive.
Cannabis and hemp of certain qualities and specifications are now allowed under the laws for use for medical purposes, even though their cultivation and manufacture are still limited domestically.
Although recreational use has not been on the agenda and there has been very little talk about this so far, the uses of cannabis and hemp beyond only medical purposes are now on the table. In particular, when the current laws are amended accordingly, they will accommodate the use of hemp in food and cosmetics.
The latest development of the relevant herb "kratom" was discussed recently and the quite ambitious plan for legalization of the herb was announced by the Justice Minister, Somsak Thepsutin. Under this plan, the draft of the amendment to the Narcotics Act is open for public hearing from 3 to 17 January 2020. After the public hearing process, the Narcotics Control Board will deliver their opinion on the draft amendment on 27 January 2020. The draft amendment is then planned to be proposed to the Cabinet on 3 March 2020 for further consideration, with the National Assembly's approval process tentatively in June this year. If the draft amendment is approved as planned, kratom will be removed from the category V narcotics list under the Narcotics Act.
Kratom is a tropical tree with one of its properties being a stimulant if used in high doses. It was controlled under the Narcotics Act because of its addictive effects. It is anticipated that, similar to how cannabis has been liberalized, the law will provide for specifications of kratom that are allowed under the law. However, it remains to be seen how kratom will be regulated once liberalized, given the foregoing property and effect.
There have been a lot of developments and progress in the liberalization of cannabis and hemp, as well as kratom in Thailand. Moving with caution, presently Thai law only allows locally cultivated and manufactured cannabis and hemp for purposes of local consumption and export only. During this first five-year period from the date when the amended Narcotics Act came into effect, export will only be practical if other countries allow cannabis to be imported into their markets. Even if the legal landscape in Thailand becomes friendlier, for obvious reasons, we will not be able to fully utilize the potential of both cannabis and hemp if all the related activities are allowed for the Thai market only. In this regard, there are positive developments (in addition to the case in Canada, certain states in the US and certain European countries) as many countries in Asia Pacific have also allowed, to various extents, certain cannabis-related activities under their licensing and permit regimes. For example, medicinal cannabis products may be imported into and exported from Australia upon satisfying certain standards and obtaining the required permits and licenses. Thailand may even need to make the legal requirements more flexible than what they are now, or what appear in the draft laws and regulations now, or we may be left behind other countries, notwithstanding our past efforts and the fact that we might be the first country in this region to start the liberalization process in this area.