On 11 November, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) posted an update to its cannabis advertising regulations and classification of the plant. Touted as further regulation of the industry, the revised rules on the sale and use of cannabis as a “controlled herb” are seen as an interim step while waiting for the Cannabis Bill, which has been repeatedly delayed due to criticism from lawmakers – particularly around the possibility of recreational cannabis use.
The FDA’s posts and press statements reiterated that the sale of this “controlled herb” to pregnant women or students through vending machines and electronic or online channels is prohibited. This also extends to unapproved commercial advertising.
This recent announcement is seen as a reaction to the Pheu Thai Party court filing which attempts to reverse the decriminalisation of the cannabis plant. According to their press release, this refers to the removal of cannabis from the narcotics list where THC was less than 0.2% by weight. If the court filing is successful, it would put commercial use of cannabis (hemp) back on the restricted list.
The FDA moved cannabis to the list of “controlled herbs” under the Protection and Promotion of Knowledge on Thai Traditional Medicine Act B.E. 2542 (1999) (“The Act”) and stated that the FDA would now control any non-medical use of cannabis.
The FDA website posted an update over the weekend specifying advertising standards. The post warns that the unauthorised advertising or exaggeration of claims for products containing cannabis is punishable by substantial fines and imprisonment. It specified three categories, namely food, herbal products, and cosmetics. For food and herbal products, prior approval of the advertisement is required.
Cannabis as a controlled herb
The classification of the plant as a “controlled herb” means that licensed businesses may potentially be required to report the quantity of controlled-herb stocks they hold and provide details about where the herbs are sourced and their end users.
Thongchai Lertwilairattanapong, director-general of the Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine, said “as the draft bill is not yet complete, we need to control it in ways that still allow beneficial uses.”
Under the Act, businesses are required to inform the government each time they export controlled herbs. But as cannabis exports are tightly controlled as a scheduled drug under The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961, it is unlikely there will be anything to report.
However, the Act provides (s.46.) that “a person shall not …. distribute or transform controlled herbs for commercial purposes unless that person is granted a licence from the licensing authority.” Further, the Act (s.45) allows the Minister to control the source and use of any controlled herb and determine the number or quantity of any controlled herbs possessed, used, monitored, kept, or transferred. It also requires specific notification to the registrar.
We are still waiting for these regulations and reporting requirements. But in the interim, the FDA has also moved forward and has been licensing certain commercial cannabis growers provided they sell via licensed distribution channels. Unlicensed growers and distributors could be impacted by this regulation with penalties under the Act including imprisonment for up to six months or a fine of up to ten thousand baht, or both.
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