Thailand has dropped hemp and low-THC cannabis extracts from its list of banned narcotics in order to accelerate the development of its nascent medical marijuana industry.

The intention is to allow extracts to be used in medicine, cosmetics and food, and support hemp as a “cash crop”, Tares Krassanairawiwong, Secretary-General of the Food and Drug Administration in Thailand, told a press conference. It could also open up the industry for private firms.

Thailand’s outgoing military junta legalized medical cannabis at the end of 2018. It has begun producing marijuana in a large facility near Bangkok and it recently yielded its first 10,000 bottles of cannabis oil.

However, only hospitals and research institutions can create extracts under the current framework, and private companies could now cash in after the list of banned narcotics was amended. The Ganja Group of Bangkok and sister business Megalife Sciences are among the firms hoping to supply cannabis within Thailand in the near future, according to Reuters.

Thailand has a long history of growing marijuana and it is responsible for some of the world’s most iconic strains. Cultivation has always been rife, but the government previously condemned cannabis growers in public and imposed strict penalties on some unfortunate growers.

That is now changing, as attitudes to cannabis become a lot more liberal around the globe, and Thailand finds itself at the forefront of Asia’s burgeoning cannabis trade. The Thai Government Pharmaceutical Organization operates a facility in Pathumthani province, which is already yielding various concentrates, and capacity will increase over the next few months.

Researchers say they are using Thailand’s centuries-old recipes, gathered from traditional healers in rural areas that have been discreetly treating villagers with cannabis extracts for generations, to create oils, tablets, oral sprays and edibles.

They cannot currently produce enough to meet huge demand from Thai patients, so officials have started turning seized cannabis from illicit growers into medical products.

Any confiscated marijuana found to contain insecticide, fertilizer, heavy metals or fungus is discarded, but officials have recently seized quality, pesticide-free cannabis and turned it into oil to supply Thai patients.

The industry is gathering a head of steam, but the International Narcotics Control Board is said to be “deeply concerned” about the rapid liberalization of cannabis laws. It needs to ensure it complies with the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 and Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988.

The next step would be to legalize recreational cannabis sales, allowing farmers across the country to profit from huge demand, while potentially turning Thailand into a major exporter.