Prayut to use S44 to settle weed patents
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is preparing to use Section 44 to settle contentious requests to patent marijuana extracts, which has sparked concern it could set back plans to develop them for medical purposes.
A total of 11 requests are being considered by the Department of Intellectual Property. This has become a heated issue as the National Legislative Assembly is in the process of enacting a law to allow for marijuana extracts to be legally used for medicinal purposes.
Both state agencies and advocacy groups are worried experts will be barred from conducting research into certain cannabis-based substances because, according to opponents, companies which submit patent requests will be given legal protection.
This means the substances will be off limits to researchers for up to five years after the department receives the companies' applications.
Gen Prayut said Monday he would use his power as chief of the National Council for Peace and Order to solve the problem by resorting to the use of Section 44.
The order grants the prime minister sweeping powers to override the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
"I'm writing a new order under Section 44," Gen Prayut said.
Sources familiar with the issue said the order is likely to find a middle ground between the requests for patents and those who oppose the move.
Gen Prayut said the solution must not contradict international laws on patents.
He insisted the order would be drafted with the utmost care.
"I don't plan on solving one problem just to make another problem," the prime minister said.
Gen Prayut's intervention comes after Biodiversity Sustainable Agriculture Food Sovereignty Thailand, known as Biothai, vowed it would join hands with civic networks to sue the department if it fails to reject the patent requests.
Under Section 9(1) of the Patent Act, extracts of a plant cannot be patented. Section 30 requires the department chief to withdraw such requests.
Last week, Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong ordered the department to reject one patent request.
The remaining eight requests are being considered because they do not directly concern marijuana extracts but substances that have the extracts as a component, he said.
The ministers assured local researchers of their rights to use cannabis extracts to produce medicines.
The Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) said the bill to allow for medical usages of marijuana, now listed as a type of narcotic, should be passed by lawmakers in the middle of January.
GPO board chairman Sopon Mekthon said his agency would provide patients with medicines made with marijuana extracts by May next year.
Experts said the extracts would help cancer patients cope with pain.