Pot Parlance, Bliss out Bong, High Rise, and Muffin and Mellow are merely a pinch of the plenitude of cannabis-related puns gracing billboards all over Thailand. This scenario has gradually painted a new narrative in the past year as countless cannabis businesses have mushroomed across the length and breadth of the nation, following the historical move of decriminalising cannabis – a leap forward to bolster tourism, agriculture, and wellness sectors.
“You see cannabis shops volleying after each other. It’s uncanny witnessing them sprout numerously” said Col, a British expat residing in the northern city of Chiang Mai. While the wave of cannabis shops was a sight to behold, Col and his partner Jules were taken aback when Thailand took the groundbreaking step of eliminating marijuana off the prohibited narcotics list, thereby becoming the trailblazing Asian country to do so.
New regulations allowed potential growers, sellers, and consumers to utilise the plant for medicinal purposes. The previously strict laws that could land you in prison for up to 15 years for cannabis possession now seemed like a thing of the past. This push towards legalization, however, came with its own ambiguity, causing rumblings of ‘what?’, ‘how much?’, and ‘where?’ regarding cannabis consumption.
Despite the picture still evolving, nearly 1 million personalities have stepped up to grow the plant, and about 9,000 have officially registered as sellers. The country continues to wait, however, for a consensus in Parliament for broader legislation to manage the plantation and usage of this newly legal commodity.
Kitty Chopaka, a fervent pro-cannabis advocate and marijuana shop owner, joined the voices calling for clearer rules and regulations. Though she recognised the potential windfall of the sudden gold rush, she stressed the need for a more controlled environment, likening the current scenario to the erratic times of the Wild West.
Concerns about protecting children and mitigating substance abuse still loom large, keeping Thailand’s new coalition government on its toes. The possibility of reinstating cannabis as a narcotic until a comprehensive bill is enacted is also being considered.
Simon Lenton, director of the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University, observed this situation closely, noting that Thailand’s hasty moves could provide a roadmap of pitfalls to avoid for other countries like Australia, contemplating relaxing cannabis laws.
The current landscape, while tumultuous, has stimulated Thailand’s economy by powering a chain of small businesses and boosting the entrepreneurial spirit. The potential wealth generating from this industry is projected to reach up to 42.9 billion baht ($1.8 billion) by 2025.
The sudden sprout of opportunities related to the green gold has caught everyone’s attention. However, arising concerns about potential monopolistic tendencies, influenced by overseas imports, have made local growers jittery about maintaining competitive pricing structures and keeping the Thai brand ethos alive.
Despite these uncertainties, the cannabis revolution is viewed positively in tourist hotspots like Chiang Mai. The prospect of increased tourist engagement coupled with homegrown economic development has kept stakeholders hopeful. Dispensaries continue to innovate, offering a plethora of products from different marijuana strains to CBD-based wellness offerings.
In acknowledging the revolutionary law change, Pitak Norathepkitti, general manager of the Anantara Chiang Mai Resort, stressed the importance of careful planning and robust control systems. He emphasized collaboration among local experts, authorities, and businesses to ensure the right direction for this emerging industry.
Finally, parallels can be drawn between Thailand’s unique journey and the path contemplated by Australia. While the spotlight is on Thailand’s regulatory roller coaster, Australia might consider a more community-focused, balanced approach to circumvent the hyper-commercialisation seen elsewhere. By doing so, Australia may hope to avoid the pitfalls and learn from the hindsight provided by Thailand’s bold cannabis experiment.