Thailand’s nascent medicinal marijuana industry looks like it’s being caught up in red tape as the government has been inundated with unpopular patent applications from foreign firms.

The Southeast Asian nation signed off draft legislation permitting the medicinal use of cannabis last month. Thailand has always been a world leader in cannabis cultivation and its government is wary of countries like Canada, Colombia, and Germany profiting from a legal industry while it lags behind.

Medicinal marijuana will be formally introduced in 2019, but the government is now wrestling with the intricacies of creating a framework for the new industry. Its biggest problem involves foreign firms trying to muscle in and it is seeking to ensure its own farmers will benefit from the new law.

So far all applications to its Intellectual Property Department for patents on cannabis plants have come from overseas firms, and its politicians do not want to see large multinationals monopolizing this lucrative trade.

Chokwan Kitty Chopaka, an activist at a legalization lobbyist group called Highlands Network, urged the government to give these patent requests short shrift, arguing that they will stifle innovation and derail the budding industry. Chokwan likened it to patenting water and its uses and called the applications “scary”.

British firm GW Pharmaceuticals and its Japanese partner, Otsuka, are among the overseas companies to apply for patents. Local opposition to these patent requests threatens to create a huge roadblock for legislators that hope to introduce a medicinal cannabis industry within the next month or two.

Rolling out a cannabis trade in Thailand is a delicate process as much of Southeast Asia is deeply conservative when it comes to marijuana. The region has some of the world’s harshest penalties, and just this week news has broken of a British tourist who could face the death penalty after being accused of smuggling cannabis oil into Bali, Indonesia.

The unnamed 45-year-old man is accused of receiving a parcel containing bottles of CBD oil from Thailand. He was paraded at a press conference this week alongside men from China, Germany, Malaysia, and Peru that are accused of separate smuggling offences.

Malaysia has just rescinded the death penalty after international outcry about a man sentenced to death for selling CBD oil to sick patients. It is now in the early stages of debating whether to legalize medicinal cannabis, as is neighbouring Singapore, but Indonesia still has the death penalty.

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