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Political movements are all about taking up empty space. 

Sitting around hoping everything turns out “alright” is a means to nothing, so if something needs fixing, you mobilise and fix it yourself. 

It’s a simple mantra, but a well-tested one. And the founding principle of the PCA: the Phuket Cannabis Association. Something that one of its co-founders Poonwarit Wangpatravanich, aka Thames, is quick to reiterate when we connect for the first time via Zoom. 

“The PCA was founded for very humble reasons,” Thames explains. “We were just a group of business owners and wholesalers of cannabis who saw that the market was out of hand – import flowers coming in and damaging the market etc – so we said, ‘Ok, we need a medium to facilitate a market that is more balanced.’”

The PCA’s “humble” beginnings quickly began to turn its own sort of “out of hand”, only this time in a more positive manner. Meaning: Thames and his PCA associates soon discovered that the space they’d waded into was vast, and begging for someone to take the initiative when it came to education, and creating an open dialogue between the cannabis market (both foreign and domestic investment), the Thai people, and the Thai government. So that’s exactly what they set about doing. 

“Our main objective is to improve soft skills – bud tending and things like that – for Thai people, so there are employment opportunities and the right supplies of staff for the market,” Thames says. “At the moment we have a lot of foreign investment coming in who want to do legitimate business, and Thai owners who want to do legitimate business, but not many Thai people who are qualified in the various areas of cannabis. Either they don’t have the knowledge of cannabis to be able to sell it, or they don’t have the responsibilities or morals to keep the business going sustainably.”

The PCA education strategy comes in the forms of a two pronged attack: monthly workshops for Thai people to learn various cannabis-adjacent skills, and then a whole range of activities aimed at raising awareness within Thai society as to the various aspects of cannabis consumption: medical, recreational (we’ll get to that) and everything in between. 

The second part of the battle being, by far, the bigger operation. 

Thames lays out the logistics. 

“We have over 14,000 licenses for dispensaries alone, 3000 THB each, that’s quite a big sum of money already,” he says. “Not to mention every licensee invests about 200-300,000  THB in their facility. I think we’re talking about 100s Billion of THB right now invested in the industry, so if any laws change dramatically then it’s going to be a big problem.”

The PCA believes in a diplomatic solution – ie a regulatory middle ground – with a focus on Thai people in the industry leading the conversation. 

“We believe regulation is good,” Thames explains. “We want real people to be in the industry, we don’t want quick-in, quick-out people. Those people are bad for any industry. We want long -term investors, and we don’t want to be manipulated; we want to build a really long-lasting, sustainable industry.”

You’d be forgiven for assuming that the Thai Government (with its endless drip-feeding of mixed cannabis messaging and political maneuvering) would be the PCA’s primary “foe” in fight for a sustainable, equitable cannabis future. However, Thames explains that it’s the PCA’s belief that the biggest threat to the Thai cannabis industry comes from within the ranks of cannabis community itself.

“I would say the biggest issue is that people in the industry are not united,” Thames explains.  “Cannabis is a plant medicine, right. So it’s very impactful or meaningful. It has positive impacts on people’s lives. But at the same time we have a group of immature people, both in business, manners and consumption.”

Thames elaborates, explaining that the “immaturity” that he speaks of, broadly takes the form of people who want to operate in the cannabis industry (and consume cannabis) without any restriction at all. Which is unrealistic anywhere where cannabis is decriminalised. 

“‘Freedoms’ or ‘liberties’, come with huge responsibilities,” Thames sums up, eloquently. 

The PCA’s vision for Thailand’s great, green future is the focusing on the medical properties of the plant. Both in terms of making it a world leader in medical cannabis treatments, and shifting the focus of “recreational” cannabis use, to a broader “general health and wellbeing” framing. 

It’s simple party politics: your party needs a message, your party members then need to learn that message and stick to it when they go out into the world. And Thames’ version of the PCA’s message is that if you’re part of the Thai cannabis community, whether business owner, worker, or consumer, you’ve got a responsibility to give cannabis a good name. Otherwise, it will get taken away. 

“We need people to open their minds, open their hearts and find a way to compromise,” Thames reiterates. “I think living in society is all about compromise and finding the middle-ground where everybody is happy.”

Speaking of “everybody” being “happy”, tourism is an open goal for Thailand when it comes to the cannabis industry income (Bangkok wasn’t the most visited city in the world last year by accident). However, it’s a hard thing to control for organisations like the PCA from a cannabis PR perspective. But Thames is a firm believer that the key to dealing with all of these potential pitfalls – as in tourists doing something stupid and giving cannabis in Thailand a bad rap – is focusing on the plant’s medical properties. If that’s at the forefront of the culture and the messaging, the PCA believes, then cannabis has the best chance of fulfilling its potential as a lasting industry in Thailand.

“We were recently in a few hearings regarding the new regulations, and I think the main problem that everybody gets stuck on is the term ‘recreational,’” Thames explains. “We instead think we should use the term ‘health tourism’. It’s all holistic, but the difference between recreational and health and wellbeing is the dosage. If it’s just the dosage it means that the law and regulations could be way more flexible. Then everybody wins.”

The communal aspect is something that Thames keeps referring back to, and what he means is people in Thailand coming together to realise what a delicate flower they have in their hands (pun intended), something that no other country in south east Asia has. And like a real like flower, it needs delicate nurturing.

“Absolutely I’m excited about the future,” Thames says when I ask whether he’s hopeful about Thailand’s cannabis prospects. 

“Nowhere else in Asia has this opportunity, so we have the monopoly on this business. Why throw away something so powerful, that can help generate GDP for the country, and pay taxes, so the government can use these taxes to build hospitals, schools and infrastructure for the country to grow-up?”

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Alistair Klinkenberg

Alistair is a journalist, editor and copywriter from Australia, living in the land of smiles!