The Commerce Ministry has allayed fears it will put the brakes on developing marijuana extracts for possible medicinal usage, saying the project has the backing of the government.
It has also vowed to thwart a foreign firm's attempt to monopolise prized patents, saying the Intellectual Property Department has received and accepted an application from a foreign firm but adding that this would not be approved.
Meanwhile, Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong urged local researchers on Monday to continue studying the use cases of marijuana because the "extracts cannot be patented under Thai law".
His assurance came as a plan to legalise cannabis extracts for medicinal use as part of a new bill is being challenged by the company, which has applied for the sole rights to use such extracts.
It should be noted that Mr Sontirat is also a senior member of the regime's political arm, the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), and has twin roles as active politician and minister.
The cabinet was scheduled to consider Tuesday whether to approve the 17-section bill, a prerequisite to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) enacting it.
If the law is passed, cannabis for medical usage would become legal.
At present, Section 9 of Thailand's patent law prohibits the issuance of a patent for a natural extract taken from a plant or animal. A patent can only be granted if the extract is mixed with other substances to create a new medical formula, Mr Thosapone said.
"In that case," he said, "anyone including Thai researchers who comes up with an innovation could apply for a patent."
The foreign firm, which was not named, filed a petition containing its request in 2010 to ask the Commerce Ministry to grant a patent for cannabis extracts. The details of the application were announced on the department's website in 2016, Mr Thossapone said.
Because there was no objection to its move within 90 days, officials are required to proceed to the next step of consideration. But the petition for a patent will eventually be dropped in line with Section 9 of the patent law, he said.
Dr Teerawat Hemachuta from Chulalongkorn Hospital was quoted earlier as saying that acceptance of the application automatically prohibited any other parties from developing cannabis products, even though the request had not been approved.
He asked why the department did not reject the application immediately to preempt such problems.
Mr Sontirat said the department is bound by the international practice of accepting a patent application if it, along with supporting documents, is submitted correctly.
The latest debate on marijuana extracts was sparked by the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO), which has invested 120 million baht in a new factory to develop cannabis products for medical usage.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which also supports relaxing restrictions on marijuana, is working separately on a law detailing how to regulate the new usages of the plant.
Marijuana is listed as a category 5 narcotic in Thailand meaning it is strictly controlled.
The draft, proposed by 44 NLA members, follows the same stance as an FDA narcotic control panel that met on Friday to mull the issue. It said it needed to get the nod from the Council of State over some legal complications before proceeding.
- Earlier report: Authorities turn down foreign marijuana patent demand