I recently returned from a family trip to Israel which opened my eyes to how far cannabis in Thailand has come. The first thing I noticed in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport was that Israeli weed does not smell as good as it used to. I later confirmed it neither tastes nor feels as good either. This was shocking and a bit sad for me. For years I held Israel on a pedestal—a forward looking country on the vanguard of agricultural and medicinal cannabis technology—a country which decriminalized possession of cannabis. Where weed is easily available, popular and has no stigma. Tel Aviv has smelled like kush for the last half decade. Every beach, market, parking lot, café, train station, and temple (not on Shabbat) smells like kush. And nothing has changed, Israel still is the world leader in cannabis technology and Tel Aviv still reeks of kush.

Don’t get me wrong, I love kush. I smoke it. I enjoy it. A year ago if you told me I can freely purchase a few grams of weed and smoke it openly, but it has to be kush, I would have thanked and kissed you out of happiness. But today, after living with legal cannabis in Thailand, decent kush is not enough. I need variety and quality—I need diverse effects, terpenes, tastes, aromas, and personalities. Weed is not just weed anymore. It is no longer a commodity I desperately sniff the air and search IG for. Cannabis in Thailand is now art—expertly curated in some of the best dispensaries—provided directly from local artists themselves. I am now regularly accustomed to selecting, appreciating, and enjoying that art and expect nothing less. If Thailand is a gallery of cannabis—then Israel is the museum gift shop which only sells a couple faded Van Gogh prints.

What a difference a year and legalization makes. Our industry, professionality, quality, and expectations have grown. For the last week I have been dealing with the annoyingness of Covid—unable to smoke while an endless supply of high end, diverse and incredibly pungent smelling flowers have been coming through my doorway waiting to be sampled. On the one hand this is torture—on the other hand it highlights just how much amazing weed is now being grown in Thailand and how standards and quality have grown. We have also seen a rise in the number of high quality farmers working their asses off competing to rise to the top. Legalization in Thailand allowed legacy growers, many of whom have been covered in these pages, the ability to come out into the light and grow without looking over their shoulders. It created an environment for other growers to start or improve their growing techniques—to work in an environment without legal pressure and the specter of police or government abuse. In the absence of clear growing and market standards, legalization has also opened a dialogue amongst growers and the industry as a whole regarding universal standards to apply to Thai cannabis.

This is not the case in Israel. For the last half decade cannabis has been decriminalized but it has not been legalized. In practice users of cannabis will not be harassed by the police or other authorities when smoking—but it is still illegal to grow and sell. I am not sure if we as a people are more inclined to it, but Jews love cannabis and Israelis are not an exception to this rule (I can hear my mother screaming at me as I write this sentence). As a result all of Israel smokes weed—barbarically by mixing it with tobacco—but they nonetheless smoke. Their sources of cannabis are limited to vendors selling 5 gram minimums on the Telegram application. Growers must work underground hiding from the authorities and are forced to sell their good through mostly anonymous and protected technology. Consumers cannot see, smell, or touch their weed before buying and have no idea who grew or where it comes from. In effect the Israeli authorities have freed the consumer to use cannabis—but they have also strengthened the most organized and darkest corners of the illicit online industry by keeping growing and selling illegal. They have helped create universal demand (nearly 27% of adult Israelis use cannabis according to statistica.com)—but have left most of the cannabis supply in the dark, anonymous with zero traceability, or standards of quality or accountability. This has led to stagnation of cannabis quality and an absence of an open cannabis growing community. What seemed awesome just a year ago—seems like just ok weed today.

Recently I spoke to my mother-in-law about talks within the Thai cannabis community related to establishing standards of care and safety within our industry (I can hear her screaming at me as I write this). Standards which could not have been discussed without the legal framework which currently applies. She listened as I discussed efforts from within the community to protect society and ensure the integrity of Thai cannabis and its reputation. My argument to her was that the community was in the best place, the most educated place, to understand cannabis and provide guidelines on safety for the community while at the same time providing standards for growing. I further pointed out that the authorities and politicians for their own reasons seemed to have no intention of considering the matter from a practical, educational, and rational basis but merely use cannabis to build political popularity. She patiently and respectfully listened to my arguments, but then shook her head and said “not in Thailand—someone will always violate the standards—they will sell to kids.” She then implied that the best way to move forward was to reverse cannabis’s legality.

I disagreed with my mother-in-law, but it wasn’t until my trip to Israel that the reasoning became clear to me. We cannot turn back the clock on legalization. The demand is out there in the public and we have already taken giant strides forward with regards to quality and product grown here in Thailand. I agree that we must work together to minimize the exposure of minors to cannabis, however making cannabis illegal will do nothing to help that matter. Instead making cannabis illegal will force everyone back underground, where communication, transparency and accountability disappear in the shadows. The community has an incentive to work together now, in a legal environment, to create standards—including those protecting minors. However, in an environment which makes our community criminal, the priority becomes survival and dodging authorities above all else. The Israeli model of cannabis decriminalization is a farce. Israel has the highest rate of adult cannabis use in the world, but growers are kept hiding in the dark. Israel has failed to create quality and standards to protect consumers—and has also failed to introduce their own superior technology to recreational growers. We should learn the lessons of Israel’s weaknesses and at the same time celebrate how far we have come in such a short period of time. Indeed, Thailand has come further in 10 months than Israel has in 5 years. Let us continue to improve our quality of cannabis and finally set in stone standards for growth and business to protect our community and society. Lastly, we should harness Israeli and other technologies which are unable to be used in their home markets. The weakness of other nations can be Thailand’s strength. The grass is not always greener on the other side.

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Mendel Menachem

Mendel Menachem is a curious and well-known cannabis commentator in Thailand, with a particular focus on locally grown flowers and their growers. His unwavering support for the local industry has earned him widespread respect within the Thai cannabis community. Mendel also regularly reviews cannabis from throughout the country, which he expertly reviews thanks to his renowned palate. Follow him on Instagram