With Thailand poised to become the first Asian country to legalize medical marijuana, news has arisen that foreign pharmaceutical companies have already applied for patents that would see them dominate the market.

Earlier this month Thailand’s interim cabinet approved a bill that would allow medical use of all Class 5 drugs, including cannabis, but instead of cheap, medically approved treatments Thais may have to rely on more expensive imports.

At a press conference on Wednesday (Nov 21), cannabis advocate group Highland Network revealed documents showing that over the past decade and a half Britain’s GW Pharma and Japan’s Otsuka Pharmaceutical have filed patents that would grant them exclusive ownership over many cannabis derivative products.

In effect, this could prevent local companies from conducting any further research and development of cannabinoids.

Up to 31 patents from foreign nationals have been accepted by the Intellectual Property Department despite the fact that cannabis remains illegal, outraging Highland and other advocates.

According to Khaosod English, National Legislative Assembly representatives claim the Intellectual Property Department told them the patents could not be rejected due to international trade treaties that Thailand has signed.

On Wednesday, Highland spokesperson Kitty Chopaka called on the Intellectual Property Department to revoke the applications.

Watch Highland’s press conference (in Thai language only) here or read more about their ongoing advocacy efforts in our interview with members Arun “Max” Avery and Kitty Chopaka here.