Thai medical marijuana legalisation starts access to medicines battle

Thailand legalizing medical cannabis use might seem to have little IP relevance, but IP seems to be the biggest concern. The worry is a flood of patents for medical cannabis. Thailand is already highly sensitive about the effect of patents on access to medicines. News reports that a high volume of patent filings will be contrary to the public interest. Commentators say that this will deny Thai patients access to cannabinoid medical products resulting from them due to high costs of innovator owned medicines and also that Thai researchers will have more limited access to marijuana compounds to research.  

Whilst much of the media hype has referred to the common panic about dominance by multinational big pharma, the cannabinoid medicines industry is typically a different group. GW Pharmaceuticals is a small UK company which focuses on cannabinoid products for multiple sclerosis and is now expanding into other therapeutic areas. It is the biggest ogre since it has applied for various cannabis drug patents in Thailand. Some are co owned by Japan's Otsuka Pharmaceutical. So far the numbers of cannabinoid patents in Thailand are believed to be relatively small, just over a dozen or so. 

The issue pits the Thai Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) against the patent office. The GPO argues cannabinoid products are naturally occurring so cannot be patented. Of course patent law is more subtle than that and ways to manufacture, process and refine natural products are of course patentable if they are completely new, and not obvious. News reports suggest the patent office may refuse the patents. In November the Thai Prime Minister waded in stating that he could use the military drafted constitution to cancel the patents. Another point is that these patents were filed long ago before legalisation, so may fall foul of another provision on legality of the patent.

However another consideration is control over plant varieties for cannabis strains and the potential restrictions on farming that might follow. Expect a long drawn out debate. Because only medical uses are legal, neither side will be consuming anything to relax over the issue!