All for medical purposes

Choki Wangmo

The government is currently reviewing proposals from five investors interested in cultivating medical cannabis in the country on a commercial scale.

Since December last year, three foreign proponents from the UK and India and two Bhutanese have proposed to the Menjong Sorig Pharmaceutical  Corporation Ltd. (MSPCL).

MSPCL is the designated state-owned agency on behalf of the government to undertake research, manufacturing, production, and sale of cannabis products within and outside the country.

One Indian company, Arsenalogic Technologies Pvt. Ltd. proposed research on hemp cultivar development and hemp farming. A local businessman proposed Hemp-CBD cultivation in partnership with the government.

An official at MSP, Samten said that the proposals were foreign direct investments with an equity sharing of 60:40.

However, Samten said that all cannabis species are medicinal in nature and that it was difficult to identify the best due to lack of technical studies.

MSPL has forwarded the proposals to the cabinet for review, but the progress had been impeded due to the current pandemic, foreign minister, Lyonpo Tandi Dorji said.

Lyonpo said that the selected species needs to be scientifically and genetically studied and then only planted according to the required cannabidiol amount allowed for medical purposes. “The selected species would be cultivated in greenhouses and the species grown should be uniform throughout the country.”

Medicinal cannabis is prescribed to relieve the symptoms of a medical condition, such as epilepsy, Alzheimer, Parkinson’s disease and cancer among others.

The cannabis plant contains more than 100 different chemicals called cannabinoids. Each one has a different effect on the body. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol are the main chemicals used in medicine.

For medical use, the approved THC level is less than 0.3 percent. Studies have found that free wild seeds are of lower quality, while the medium quality contains less than 0.3 percent of THC. The best quality has zero THC. The wild cannabis species in the country are found to contain more than 0.3 percent of THC.

Lyonpo said to legalise medical cannabis, few clauses in the narcotics act need to be amended. Article 128 of the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act of Bhutan 2015 grades illegal cultivation, domestication or harvest of cannabis and its derivatives as a felony of third degree if the defendant cultivates or domesticates equal to or more than two times the number of plants determined in Schedule VII of the Act; minimum quantity for illicit trafficking.

The Act was scheduled to be amended in the last parliament session but was not discussed. Lyonpo said that the upcoming session would be for 1-2 days, which won’t see the amendment of the Act.

World Health Organisation reported that about 147 million people, 2.5 percent of the world population consume cannabis.