Thailand has indicated that it will prevent large cannabis firms from seizing control of its fledgling marijuana industry by handing power to citizen-led enterprises.

Thailand legalized cannabis for medical purposes as a New Year “gift” to the people and it has the potential to become a leading light on the global stage. It has a long history of marijuana cultivation, excellent growing conditions, and low labour costs.

Many multinationals, such as British firm GW Pharmaceuticals and Japanese partner Otsuka, applied to the country’s Intellectual Property Department for patents on cannabis plants in a bid to gain a foothold in a potentially lucrative market.

Growers must be cooperatives, community groups or social enterprises and not private companies.

However, the latest communication from the Thai Narcotics Board represents a blow to their aspirations. Representative Niyom Termsrisuk warned that growers must be cooperatives, community groups or social enterprises and not private companies.

He added that they must be run by Thai nationals and that they will be heavily scrutinized by state agencies. That will assuage the concerns of many Thais, who feared that the industry would be quickly taken over by foreign firms.

Of course, there may be ways of getting around this for big firms hoping to expand into Thailand. The leading Canadian companies have set up subsidiaries in areas like Latin America, with locals heading them up, and a similar model could yet prevail in Thailand.

Joint ventures may also be possible. Without bringing in foreign expertise, Thailand could fail to realize its full potential in this lucrative global market, but the government seems a lot less open than those in countries like Colombia, Mexico, and Denmark to joining an international cannabis industry.

It plans to put government agencies in charge of the import, export, and distribution of cannabis, rather than allowing private companies to handle it.

However, this could all change, as the current Thai government, which seized power in a military coup back in 2014, is about to step aside. It will make way for a civilian government to take control once more.

A general election is taking place on Feb. 24 and, while leading lights in the current military government will seek to retain a strong degree of influence, new decision makers will essentially come to the fore this year. They might be persuaded to relax their attitude towards the commercialization of cannabis in Thailand if they are convinced of just how much it could boost their coffers.