Thailand has been a pioneering nation in the South-east Asia region, having led the way in the decriminalization of cannabis in 2022. The country has since seen an explosion of cannabis entrepreneurship, with several thousand cannabis shops emerging across the nation.
However, while attending the United Nations General Assembly this past September, Thailand’s new prime minister, Srettha Thavisin, indicated plans to enforce a medical-use only policy regarding cannabis. Srettha’s announcement projected an unclear future for the bourgeoning sector, reflecting the government’s concerning intent to constrain the rapidly expanding industry within the next half-year.
Cannabis for medical purposes has been lawful since 2018, placing Thailand at the helm in South-east Asia. But only until June 2022 did the Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration finally omit cannabis from the narcotics list. This groundbreaking advancement legalized various aspects of cannabis including its production, sale, and usage under particular conditions.
Recent statistics exhibit that over a million individuals have registered to cultivate cannabis in Thailand since these changes. Nearly 6000 cannabis shops, over 1200 of which reside in Bangkok, have opened countrywide in the past year.
Among these shops, Fat Buds Weed Shop stands proudly amidst the cannabis boom in Bangkok’s Ekkamai neighbourhood. The establishment, run by May Kamkrad, has experienced significant success since its inception, finding favour with both local Thais and international tourists.
Running Fat Buds, although challenging, has proved transformative for May. Besides providing her an alternative income source after her restaurant stint, cannabis legalization has boosted her financial stability, enabling her to support her family better.
However, May is anxious about the possibility that regulatory changes could compromise her ability to operate her business. She laments, “I’m worried because I won’t be able to work. Protests may be inevitable.”
Designed to foster a welcoming and home-like atmosphere, Fat Buds features creatively adorned interiors. The shop’s decorations epitomize its humble origins and long-term commitment to serve the community.
Currently, the bustling cannabis industry in Thailand is anticipated to amass an impressive $1.25 billion by 2025, per estimates by the Thai Chamber of Commerce.
However, more restrictive regulations would undeniably impact Thai livelihoods and disrupt the supply chain. Cannabis activist Kitty Chopaka contends limiting the industry would affect small farms contributing to her cannabis store, Chopaka. Further, Chopaka emphasizes responsible public accessibility to cannabis, presented the industry’s compliance to regulations.
Concerns also loom over the transparency and fairness of regulations. Gloria Lai, Asia Regional Director for International Drug Policy Consortium, emphasizes ensuring that potential regulatory changes don’t unduly benefit select elite corporations or risk excluding small business owners and local farmers.
Conversely, Cannabox Thailand co-founder Carl Linn remains optimistic despite potential restrictions. He predicts the Thai government will maintain a lenient stance towards recreational cannabis use. Instead, Linn anticipates a revised perspective on what constitutes medical cannabis, reinforced by stricter requirements for dispensaries.
Carl Linn conceives a future where elevated emphasis on quality control might exclude ineligible dispensaries. He postulates that over 65 per cent of Thailand’s dispensaries may face closures, leading to a significant transformation of the industry landscape.
The future of Thailand’s cannabis industry remains uncertain, but as industry players like May, Kitty, and Carl continue to advocate and adapt, the hope for opportunity and growth endures.