Will investigate depending on what narcotic control board say

Younten Tshedup 

Officials from the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) claims they were not aware of the existence of a commercial firm in Thimphu that produces and sells hemp extracts.

Following Kuensel’s report on the business, officials from the authority said that they might have to start an investigation.

They, however, said the decision to investigate would depend on the narcotic control board, who were yet to be appraised by the BNCA secretariat as of yesterday.

Officials said BNCA had not received or given approval to any such business proposals so far.

The Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2018 (NDPSS), prohibits cultivation, harvesting, possessing, distributing, importing, exporting or selling cannabis and its derivatives.

Under the Act, cannabis is classified under Schedule I that grades the plant as a narcotic drug, with no medicinal value.

However, Section 130 of the Act states that notwithstanding Section 128 of the Act, a person or an entity may be permitted to produce or extract fibres or animal feed or such other products for licit purpose as prescribed under rules and regulations.    

BNCA officials said that the authority had approved a few proposals for scientific research and educational purposes. The approval, however, did not allow commercialisation of the cannabis or marijuana plants.

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Commercialisation of cannabis and its derivatives including hemp extracts is illegal in the country as per the NDPSS Act.

Officials said that as the nodal agency concerned with abuse and illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs and controlled substances, BNCA should give authorisation to individuals or groups concerning the cannabis plant of any of its derivatives.

They said that although they were unaware of the existence of the firm, it would be ‘too early’ to comment on the issue  and that it was also mostly based on ‘assumptions’. “An investigation has to be carried out to confirm it beyond doubts,” an official said.

However, Kuensel learnt that BNCA knew about the business. Kuensel has also obtained pictorial evidence of the hemp extract products and learnt that the firm had a trademark registered with the Industrial Property Registry.

Kuensel learnt that hemp extract is sold for Nu 2,000 for a 10 millilitre of the extract, packaged in a syringe. There is no dedicated outlet and marketing done mainly through word-of-mouth.

The firm, on its product cover, claims that the extract is 100 percent natural, made from cannabis plants grown in Bhutan. It also claims that the product is beneficial in treating various health problems, including cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, asthma, kidney disease, diabetes, various pains including headache, inflammation, and insomnia, among others.

Although marijuana and hemp are used synonymously for cannabis plants in the country, marijuana has more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content than hemp. THC is one of many chemicals (cannabinoids) found in the cannabis plant and primarily responsible for the ‘high’ associated with cannabis.

Cannabis plant, hashish and hashish oil including hemp extracts are all considered derivatives of the plant.

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