Thailand’s Marijuana Industry Faces Uncertainty

Thailand’s marijuana industry is in a state of uncertainty as the government considers plans to restrict the sale of marijuana for medical use only. However, the country’s marijuana community hopes to continue their business.

Marijuana Decriminalization in Thailand

Thailand became the first country in Southeast Asia to decriminalize marijuana last year, and since then, thousands of shops selling psychoactive plants have sprung up.

But during the United Nations General Assembly in September, Thailand’s new Prime Minister, Srettha Thavisin, announced that his government would regulate marijuana for medical use only.

Thavisin added that marijuana would not be regulated for recreational purposes, and the government hopes to enact new laws to implement these regulations within six months.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Thailand since 2018. The White Elephant country was the first in Southeast Asia to legalize it.

However, it was only in June 2022 that Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration officially removed marijuana from the list of narcotics, making marijuana possession, cultivation, distribution, consumption, and sales all legal under certain conditions.

Recent data shows that over a million people have registered with the Thai government to grow marijuana. There were nearly 6,000 marijuana sellers throughout Thailand last year, with over 1,200 of them in Bangkok.

Voices from Marijuana Sellers in Thailand

Fat Buds Weed Shop operates two stores in the Thai capital. May Kamkrad runs Fat Buds in Bangkok’s Ekkamai neighborhood, which opened shortly after marijuana was removed from the list of narcotics.

Kamkrad’s customers include local Thais and foreigners visiting Thailand. She told DW that running the store has changed her life.

“I had to borrow money to open it. For me, marijuana gave me a job and taught me how to make money. I used to work in a restaurant. Now, I make more money than before. My family and our lives have improved. And when I make money, I can support my family,” she said.

Kamkrad said she would be unhappy if new regulations prevented her from continuing her business.

“I’m sad because I won’t have a job to do. Maybe I’ll have to protest,” she added.

Fat Buds has a creative and customer-friendly interior filled with stickers, posters, statues, and graffiti-covered walls, illuminated with dim lights to create a cozy atmosphere. The decor reflects its humble beginnings.

“We didn’t spend a lot of money on this. We only had a table and AC. All of this has been added over time. It’s not just a source of income for us. We’ve done it for the long term, gaining the trust of the community, trying to do the right thing,” said Ricky, who manages the store with Kamkrad.

Challenges in the Marijuana Industry

Many new marijuana shops are emerging in renovated buildings with clean tables, bright lights, and higher prices. From the outside, these shops resemble health centers.

“Right now, everything is going on as usual. I think we’ll just wait and see if they decide to implement stricter regulations. And everyone thinks the same. If they switch to medical, I just hope they do it the same way, in a way that won’t make you jump through hoops,” Ricky added.

The Thai Chamber of Commerce estimates that the marijuana sector will be worth $1.25 billion by 2025. However, any restrictions in this industry will impact the livelihoods of the Thai people, according to Kitty Chopaka, a marijuana activist and owner of Chopaka marijuana shop in Bangkok.

“I support more than 50 farms in my shop, with one farm typically equivalent to at least one to five families,” she told DW. She added that marijuana should be responsibly accessible to the public because the industry has shown that it can follow the rules.

Gloria Lai, the Asia Regional Director for the International Drug Policy Consortium, expressed concern about who would benefit if new regulations were implemented. “This industry has grown much larger now. Any new regulations applied will affect many people,” she told DW.

“I think my concern is to what extent the government will be open and honest about what they will do with marijuana and not just end up with a few elites or large, powerful companies that can profit from it,” she said.

“Then most local farmers and small business owners will close,” she added.

The Future of the Marijuana Industry

However, Carl Linn, the author of the Cannabis in Thailand newsletter, believes that marijuana use for recreation will still exist. “I think they will have regulations designed to create an environment where only medical-grade marijuana can be grown and sold. The goal is not the bold idea that all products contain marijuana or none at all. I think marijuana will be available for those who want to use it in Thailand.”

However, he predicts that more requirements will change the business landscape for recreational use in Thailand.

“They will require all marijuana stores to provide a certificate of analysis. It’s a cost that will shut down many marijuana stores that don’t qualify for a new permit. Then there will be some kind of mandate for tracking and tracing software for all marijuana stores,” Carl said.

“I think they will try to rebrand it so that marijuana in Thailand is seen in a health context,” he added.

“I think the crazy, noisy, and excessive signboards and the proliferation of marijuana shops will disappear. I think more than 65% of marijuana shops in Thailand will disappear, so the landscape will look very different,” he concluded.