In July this year, FoodNavigator-Asia reported that Thailand became the first country in South East Asia to formally legalise the use of cannabis for food-related purposes, after the Thai Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) announced that cannabis and hemp were delisted from the Category 5 list of narcotics in the Royal Gazette.
This legalised the planting, importing, consumption and also usage of these for use in food products, with the caveat that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content did not exceed 0.2%.
About three months on, MOPH has now issued several new edicts regarding the use of cannabis and hemp and cannabis in foods and seasonings, presumably to tighten regulatory control and ensure that these would not be misused for recreational purposes.
“In food products, THC content must not exceed 1.6mg per unit of the product content, and overall cannabidiol (CBD) must not exceed 1.41mg per unit of the product content; whereas in all food seasonings, THC content must not exceed 0.0032% by weight and the overall CBD content must not exceed 0.0028% by weight,” Deputy Government Spokeswoman Traisuree Traisoranakul said via a formal statement.
“All amounts of THC and CBD in the food products or food seasonings mist be clearly stated on the product label and packaging.
“In addition, when it comes to the use of cannabis seeds directly in food, edible oils or proteins, the control on the amount of CBD in these is not applicable, but there remains a control on the amount of THC that manufacturers need to pay heed to.
“It is also confirmed that CBD can be used as an ingredient in food products when mixed with other substances known not to be harmful to health. All these edicts have been made under Thailand’s 1979 Food Act.”
Although the government reconfirmed its intention for cannabis and hemp to be used in food products via these edicts, these have also made it clear that the use of these is for consumption as protein or for health benefits, and not for recreational purposes as exceeding the now-clear regulatory limits will result in penalties.
Chairman of the panel overseeing laws regarding cannabis and hemp utilisation Supachai Jaisamut, from local political party Bhumjaithai, had previously voiced concerns over potential issues arising as a result of the decriminalisation.
“[This law] could run into problems due to some people enjoying too much freedom in using the plants [if legislation is not implemented carefully],” he said.
The cannabis bill has currently passed its first reading in Thailand’s House of Representatives and is still awaiting its final readings, set to be reviewed in November 2022.
No smooth sailing
Although the industry in Thailand has been swift to swoop in and make good on the legalisation of using marijuana in food products, not everyone is on board with this decision.
Front and centre of the protest against the decriminalisation have been medical personnel and Islamic leaders in the country, with the former claiming that cannabis poses a threat to public health and the latter concerned over its use for recreational purposes.
Both parties had sent letters of protest to the government, whose general response has been to emphasise that the legalization is not meant for recreational use.
Supachai had also stressed that the government was looking at ‘more effective rules’ to seal off remaining loopholes in cannabis regulations – potentially the catalyst for this new wave of cannabis and hemp use in food – but critics of the policy have countered by saying that there is still as yet no specific law to prevent recreational use.
And these fears may not be completely unfounded – according to a study from Chulalongkorn University, multiple cannabis-containing beverages in Thaiand have been found to contain THC levels above the allowed limits, and though this is obviously in a beverage, the excess amounts could easily be made part of recreational usage.
“Our study so far has shown that about 30% of cannabis drinks randomly tested across various categories including coffees, teas, milk drinks and more contain THC levels above that allowed by the law, which is 0.015mg per 100ml,” said the study authors.
“The issue is that at present, there is not yet a recommended level of daily THC consumption in Thailand, for instance a number proportionate to a consumer’s weight and how many micrograms they must be careful not to exceed in order to not be affected by side effects.
“Even the shops or businesses selling these cannabis drinks are likely not aware of maximum THC levels per drink, and even if they are, there is not yet any real regulation or inspection, especially when it comes to drinks sold during foodservice as these tend to be made on the spot and the content would likely differ each time.”
It remains to be seen whether the new edicts announced by the government will serve to improve this situation.