Younten Tshedup 

There are no legal business establishments dealing with cannabis and its derivatives in the country, at least officially.

The regional office of economic affairs in Thimphu, responsible for issuance of business licences, has not authorised or issued any licence concerning hemp extraction business so far.

Following Kuensel’s report on the existence of one such business, the office began to search if at all any such business was in operation or if the office had issued a licence. “We couldn’t find any such businesses that were licensed by us,” said an official from the regional office.

Upon tracing the licence number that was reflected on the cover of the hemp extract product, the office found the licence was registered under a mushroom farming firm.  Meaning, the hemp extract that is actively sold in the market today, under a licence number, is not a legal establishment.

Officials said that, since narcotics and psychotropic drugs and substances were categorised under the ‘negative list’ of the Bhutan Micro Trade Regulation, 2006, licencing any business that involved these drugs and substances was not allowed.

Cannabis and its derivatives, including hemp extract, is classified under Schedule I of the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2018 (NDPSS), that grades the plant as a narcotic drug, with no medicinal value.

The Act prohibits cultivation, harvesting, possessing, distributing, importing, exporting or selling cannabis and its derivatives.

However, an official said that products listed under the negative list could be licenced if a sector clearance from concerned authorities was produced.  However, the regional office had not received any such clearance.  Also, officials from the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) have said that the authority had not received or given approval to any such business proposals so far.

Officials said that the licence number (for mushroom farming) and the firm’s trademark registered with the Industrial Property Registry were also under two separate names.   

Officials added that they would carry out an investigation and, if the illegality of the firm was established, it would immediately stop the business, and take the matter to the Department of Cottage and Small Industry for further actions.

While BNCA officials have claimed that the authority was unaware of the existence and operation of such firms, sources said that BNCA had already issued a warning to the same firm, in the past, following its discovery.

Meanwhile, Kuensel learnt that, in a survey conducted by the National Biodiversity Centre (NBC) and a Dutch company, it was found that the majority of cannabis plants found in the country contained high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (TCH).

THC is one of many chemicals (cannabinoids) found in the cannabis plant and is primarily responsible for the ‘high’ associated with cannabis.

Generally, for medicinal use, the approved THC level is less than 0.3 percent.  Studies have found that free wild seeds were of lower quality, while the medium quality contained less than 0.3 percent of THC.  The best quality had zero THC.  The wild cannabis species in the country are found to contain more than 0.3 percent of THC.

Also, marijuana and hemp, which are treated as cannabis plants in Bhutan, on the legal aspect, differ based on the level of THC.  Marijuana has more THC content than hemp.