Thai police hand over 100 kilos of marijuana for research

BANGKOK — Thai police on Tuesday handed over around 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of seized marijuana for medical research, as officials seek to produce pot-based medication.

Sophon Mekthon, chairman of the Government Pharmaceutical Organization, said researchers chose high-quality marijuana from police to conduct medical research, selecting from batches of seized imported marijuana and taking some local strains of cannabis that police had recently confiscated. He said the marijuana varied in quality and type so researchers could observe which characteristics are most suitable for medicinal purposes.

"The Government Pharmaceutical Organization intends to use marijuana, which is a plant that grows well in Thailand, for medical research and to develop it into medical marijuana extract and other pharmaceutical products of standardized quality," Sophon said in a statement, adding that the organization hopes to make cannabis-based medicine available to a wide range of people to replace other types of medicine that carry high prices.

Sophon said the roughly 100 kilograms of marijuana received Tuesday could produce around 10 to 15 liters (2.6 to 4 gallons) of concentrated cannabis extract that can be used for research and as medicine.

"We will use it for medical purposes and we will safely control it," Sophon said. "It is not for recreational use."

Marijuana is still illegal under Thai law, including testing on humans, but officials anticipate that legal amendments could soon be enacted.

The government's legislative body has held multiple talks over whether marijuana should be taken off the list of illegal narcotics to allow research and production of medical marijuana.

The idea has faced little resistance, but officials have expressed fear there may not be enough time for legal amendments to be enacted under the current military government, with an election tentatively scheduled for February next year. To legalize the drug, officials have deliberated using a special legislative clause that the junta gave itself when it seized power in a 2014 coup.

Withoon Danwiboon, managing director of the Government Pharmaceutical Organization, said researchers would also look at the work of other study groups to choose and develop marijuana strains that are sturdy and can effectively produce enough of the chemical component that can be extracted for medicinal purposes.

He said there are plans to make various forms of marijuana-based pharmaceutical products such as sublingual drops, transdermal patches, suppositories, creams and capsules.

It's the first time Thai police have officially handed over seized drugs to another government agency. Police typically burn all illegal narcotics that it seizes on June 26 every year, to mark International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

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