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February 24, 2022

Marijuana, Hemp, and Kratom in Thailand: The Current Legal Paradigm and Its Complexity

The enactment of Thailand’s Narcotics Code, effective December 10, 2021, marked a key milestone in promoting the commercial applications of cannabis (both marijuana and hemp) and kratom as economic plants—with subsequent regulatory developments continuing this push.

For many decades, cannabis and kratom were classified as category 5 narcotics under the Narcotics Act. However, a movement for the legalization of cannabis and kratom developed over time. First, the legalization of marijuana (Cannabis indica) for medical purposes became effective on February 19, 2019, as prescribed in Amendment No. 7 of the Narcotics Act. Kratom has also been effectively decriminalized (covering consumption, production, disposal, and possession for any purpose) since August 24, 2021, as prescribed in Amendment No. 8 of the Narcotics Act.

The laws governing narcotic and psychotropic substances in Thailand have now taken a significant step forward with the passage of the Narcotics Code, which is intended to be a comprehensive law covering all narcotics and psychotropic substances in Thailand. Most recently, the Ministry of Public Health announced in the Government Gazette on February 2, 2022, that only cannabis extract (both marijuana and hemp) with THC of more than 0.2% by weight will be classified as a category 5 narcotic. This means that seeds, cannabis plants, and inflorescences, if harvested in Thailand, have been removed from the list of category 5 narcotics.

Although the changes to Thailand’s narcotics regulations for cannabis and kratom are intricate, both cannabis and kratom have become a topical issue for farmers and related industries. The plants are new cash crops and have attracted widespread public interest. Currently, we can see fresh kratom leaves and fresh cannabis leaves sold in the market. Unlike products with cannabis derivatives, kratom-based products are not yet available in the Thai market. Although there is an opportunity for developing kratom-based products as energy drinks, infused water, cosmetics, and herbal products, kratom-based products are still in their infancy. For instance, the Thai Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is likely to view that there is no prior art on the use of kratom as a food ingredient. Thus, applications for kratom in energy drinks or infused water must undergo further “novel food safety evaluations.”

On the other hand, cannabis-based products, ranging from pharmaceuticals, foods, and cosmetics to herbal products, have already been launched in the Thai market. Cannabis-based products must be registered with the Thai FDA and their labels/advertisements must comply with all required FDA regulations. Cannabis also has a history of consumption as a food ingredient in Thailand, and therefore, applications for cannabis in the food industry have been able to bypass the food safety evaluation requirements. However, the cannabis industry has faced difficulties in that cultivation of cannabis must receive prior approval by the Thai FDA, while kratom cultivation has no such requirement.

Although kratom and cannabis plants (but not cannabis extract with THC content of more than 0.2% by weight) have been removed from the list of dangerous narcotics, launching finished products containing derivatives of these plants into the market has faced obstacles. These barriers are largely surmountable now, but entrepreneurs, farmers and finished product manufacturers must carefully review the latest developments in the laws and regulations on kratom and cannabis to ensure that they introduce products legally and safely for consumers.

For any further information on Thailand’s regulatory environment for cannabis, kratom, and narcotic substances in general, please contact Dr. Atthachai Homhuan at [email protected].

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