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Thai Medical Cannabis & Fake News

10 Mins read

The truth is getting out, despite growing anti-cannabis bias in the media

It is not hard to see that cannabis reporters are crafting and using a certain narrative.  

But the story they are telling about Thai cannabis simply does not apply to reality.

Often, mistakes in one story are merely copies of the same words and phrases used by other cannabis reporters.

It’s easy to see the same catchphrases and the same stigmas being assumed as valid.  

The narrative has been emerging from talking points fed to the media by special interests who would much prefer cannabis go away.

Before getting started on our adventures in slicing and dicing medical cannabis, I want to lay out as normative the following general category of medical cannabis according to the NHS:

“Medical cannabis” is a broad term for any sort of cannabis-based medicine used to relieve symptoms.

Yet another example of the simplicity of the truth.

Compare this with a sketch of the false narrative: Too much freedom in cannabis laws leads to the use of natural weed which leads to chaos and then to cannabis abuse among minors.

The only way out of the chaos is for the government to make natural weed illegal again.

Please, don’t take my word for it. Here is the beginning of CBNCs recent feature on cannabis in Thailand:

  • More than a year after Thailand legalized the recreational use of marijuana, the country’s new prime minister plans to roll back that law in an attempt to end the current glut in the market and bring long-term benefits to the industry.
  • In June 2022, the Southeast Asian nation became the first in Asia to decriminalize the cannabis plant, allowing it to be grown and consumed freely. Since then, the weed market has turned free-for-all as various businesses entered the sector with little regulatory or consumer guidance to oversee such activity. 
  • Moreover, not every shop has the required license and while the law stipulates that cannabis can only be consumed by individuals aged 20 and above, that’s not always enforced.
  • All this has sparked major backlash from locals who have been calling for tighter legislation. In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who took office last month, said his administration would limit cannabis use to medicinal purposes only.

Here, in a nutshell, is the set of operative assumptions behind the bulk of news stories on Thai cannabis.

And they’re ridiculous. My brief breakdown follows.

Thai Cannabis: The False Narrative vs Voices Of Cannabis Entrepreneurs

The plan to roll back the law is in no way an attempt to “end the current glut in the market”, whatever that means. Not to mention that it is just a plan, among other better plans.

The plan, such as it is, has a long way to become a regulation and a longer way to become a legal thing.

Besides, Anutin, Interior Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Thai cannabis legalization mastermind, disagrees with the rollback idea.

What? “…bring Long-term benefits to the industry”; what does that even mean?

Cannabis entrepreneurs I speak to in Thailand are getting ready to end the “current glut in the market” by selling cannabis.

The high season in Thailand is real.

Next comes the most stubborn little tangle of stupidity to arise as a point of agreement among the jet-set cannabis experts who know nothing about the plant and less about the industry. They mostly  agree on this:

Everything is great with legalization until you include natural dried flower — with its immutable characteristic of containing THC. However, once you allow natural weed to be purchased and consumed, you commit the sin of allowing recreational use. In order to stem the destruction, the government must make weed illegal again. Whatever cannabis products are left over can then be called medical cannabis.

Where medical cannabis is legal while recreational is not, staying within the law requires simply that one merely check the right boxes before making a purchase.

So much for the recap of groundless claims that contradict what we see on the ground. It’s what I would call the media consensus-fabrication on Thai cannabis.

What makes this story special? The anti-cannabis, anti-THC bias expressed at the start leads to an interview with a living, breathing Thai cannabis entrepreneur.

The Voice of A Local Cannabis Entrepreneur

The interview has many of his takes from a partner of a forward-thinking medical cannabis clinic franchise.

  • “As it stands, the market is oversaturated with cannabis that hasn’t undergone proper lab testing,” explained Soratat Pongsangiam, president at Greenhead Clinic, a traditional medical clinic in Phuket.

Mr. Soratat is an innovator in lab testing and this season it looks as though testing will sweep across the dispensaries that can afford it. And it could mean the end for the ones that cannot.

  • “This oversupply has resulted in a substantial drop in prices, down by 50-60% since we first began. If stricter regulations are implemented, it could potentially restore credibility and control to the industry,” he said.
  • “Presently, the market is quite chaotic, with many not adhering to any standardized rules.”
  • He expects an outright ban on vape products plus extractions like oil and wax. Cannabis shops may also have to deliver mandatory monthly sales reports to monitor the type of products being sold and to whom, he added.

This sounds right and it begs the question of how firm a mandate they plan to place on track and trace capabilities, as the software that holds the system of verification together. I have an excellent podcast with an innovator in the track and trace space here.

  • “I foresee a crackdown on unlicensed pop-up shops that currently evade taxes and bypass necessary quality controls and registration processes,” he said. 
  • “The industry would like to see clear regulations, and they want it restricted for medical purposes,” echoed Sornkanok Vimolmangkang, an associate professor specializing in plant sciences at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

The takeaways from the interview are at odds with a false narrative that has seemed to simply catch on and become a building block of Thai cannabis stories – even stories in which business leaders make clear that the received wisdom is total bullshit.

A special story, indeed.

Mr. Soratat shows what the future of an enlightened Thai medical cannabis marketplace could look like. In this sense, he is a visionary and Greenhead Clinics lights a way forward.

The Thai Medical Cannabis Category: A Social Choice

Some in Thai cannabis are making decisions every day who use medical in this sense of the word.

The managing director and the managing budtender at Greenhead Clinc in Kata, Phuket.

Usually medical cannabis means — get ready to pay more for weed and waste more time at the doctor’s office and the pharmacy.

In the end, the obstacle course that was set up just for you leaves you with less money and less time. This has not been the case in Thailand, where there is no stress or pressure connected to purchasing it or possessing it, within reason.

Nevertheless, no law has been written that says medical cannabis must exclude natural amounts of the THC compound.

And let’s not forget that the dried flower aspect of the plant was mentioned by name when the Health Minister announced the decision to delist cannabis as a narcotic in Thailand.

 You owe it to yourself to check out this website from Greenhead Clinics.

The banner above places the business of Thai cannabis squarely into a high-concept health and wellness aesthetic.

The banner is a brilliant example of the aesthetic of Thai cannabis introduced in The 8 Policies for medical cannabis in Thailand here. I keep circling back to look at this banner again. It keeps speaking to me.

Expansive Medical Cannabis in Thailand Requires Never-ending Education

Cannabis education in Thailand will get nowhere unless it starts by confronting taboos. Stigmas count too and are closely connected to taboos. Stigmas are particular falsehoods and stupidities that make up all anti-cannabis propaganda but go far beyond explicit messaging.

Anutin famously announced in a stadium in his home province of Buri Ram: We have removed the stigma from ganja like erasing an old tattoo. It’s up to you to see that it stays stigma-free!

There should be competition for the most effective educational platforms.

Taboos are more collective in nature and can be epic. Stigmas are the ephemeral stupidities that can become emblazoned on the mind.

The Variety of Medical Cannabis Regimes

Some medical cannabis regimes are in good economic shape. These are ones that come close to over-the-counter medical cannabis.

At one end of the spectrum, “medical” signals emphasis on checkups, examinations, doctor visits and taking what you can get in pill jars from the local clinic.

The game in a rather restrictive regime is all about how much time and money it will take you to get access to high-quality, lab-tested, fresh, 5-star medical ganja.

At the other end of the spectrum, qualifying for medical cannabis is cheap and easy and the clinics and dispensaries offer a full range of cannabis products in a modern, customer service environment that stresses education and learning.

Medical in this case signals emphasis on the quality and freshness of the product, verification of ingredients, and opportunities to learn what kinds of cannabis and cannabis products suit you best.

Expansive medical cannabis is a term that comes from thinking about the consequences of asserting that all cannabis is medical back in May, 2022.

The truth is Thailand, the legalization leader in all of Asia, is not close to spelling out what medical cannabis will look like here. And most are far behind Thailand.

There is a draft Cannabis Act circulating; not hard to get.

Ok. And then what? Some lawyers with little daylight to between themselves and the media have been riding up and down LinkedIn like Paul Revere on his horse warning, “Medical cannabis is coming! Medical cannabis is coming!”

Sounds like pointless speculation; like right after June 9th 2022, when possession was legalized and selling weed was normalized, a lawyer posted a YouTube video warning Westerners that this was a “Thai bear-trap.”

That’s right: the plan was to make everything about cannabis so vague that farangs would think everything is legal.

Only then, law enforcement would start picking off the rich offenders and charging them huge sums to stay in the country.

I won’t say who that was, I’ll just say that cannabis lawyers in Thailand say some way-out stuff.

After all, the media’s version of Thai medical cannabis is very much at odds with the take of Thai industry leaders on the ground.

They cannot both be right.

Meanwhile, several smaller nations are trying to pivot toward cannabis in a way that suggests a sector just the way the like it can take shape if they throw some money at it.

Trial and Error

Often, the first move is to say, let’s grow it and export it. We won’t let the citizens get near it and if they do they will face harsh punishment.

This is one of many postures that would-be social engineers take when they want to look like they are doing something. As if consumer preferences don’t matter. As if the competitive nature of international supply chains doesn’t matter. As if consumer preferences are what they say they are.

Or take a country may legalize some pharmaceutical cannabis drugs at the same time it increases jail time cannabis possession by several years, please.

Think of someone who knows absolutely nothing about cannabis; now think of a politician and their lawyers. But I repeat myself.

The assumption appears to be that what can be produced, bought, and sold and traded in this new industry is somehow up to the preferences of bureaucrats and lawyers and not consumers.

They dream in regulations. Consumer preferences? Minor role.  

A person standing on a beach

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Sunset at Kata Beach, walking distance to Greenhead Clinic up in the town. I took this in late October, 2023.

Some People Hate Cannabis

The party in power got there in part by using cannabis to stoke fear — among the rural population with old cannabis stigmas that common sense and now science easily debunks.

They had the international media to help them along in their campaign by repeating their anti-cannabis talking points.

And now reports all agree that cannabis legalization is frowned upon by more people than before the campaign. This is kindergarten. Covered like it is vital and relevant.

Of course, Mr. Anutin, the leader of the Bhumjaithai Party, whose major promise of cannabis decriminalization was kept, understands and is passionate about cannabis. He is the outlier who spearheaded this entire movement.

He represents hope for an even brighter future for cannabis Thailand.

He is the only one with a proven track record and the only one who has demonstrated a true understanding of the potential of cannabis in Thailand.

Has Anyone Bothered To Estimate Taxation Income on Cannabis?

Will Mr. Sorattat get the last laugh? He is acting as if the future will be as he envisions it. The big difference between and people like him versus the regulators the lawyers and the government, he is betting real money on the success of his vision, which is not only his, but representative of cannabis entrepreneurs in Thailand.

How could they walk away from that steady income?

Especially now that the world has witnessed the freest cannabis legalization in the world and none of the nightmare scenarios ever occurred. Plus, now they can tweak the industry with regulations based on what is already happening on the ground. to make it less offensive.

Here is Mr. Sorattat celebrating his birthday with his crew from Greenhead, Kata, Phuket. From left to right: The Thai traditional medical doctor, Mr. Sorattat, Managing Director & Budtender Manager.

Appendix: The Universal Complaint Against Cannabis Legalization: Smoking In Public

Smoking in public is unacceptable, yet it goes on.

It’s not like an age limit or a zoning restriction.

People walk around and hang around smoking weed.

I think the answer in this case is social shaming.

The friends of cannabis in Thailand can achieve this very easily.

One complaint that is truly universal is that it’s wrong to force others to smell weed in the air in public places.

Cannabis use in public is anti-social and in some cases just childish, selfish and shameful.

I go so far as to say it is the duty of any true friend of cannabis in Thailand to shame anyone who smokes in public while everyone else is minding his or her own business. (Small pre-planned get-togethers are different.)

The call to medical cannabis in Thailand is a call for all the friends of cannabis to grow the fuck up.

Thailand suffers from virtually none of the urban social pathologies that many Western nations have come to take for granted.

People fear that things like cannabis use in public can lead to far greater social disintegration. They can.

If you are inclined to disagree, you might think about what your responsibilities ought to be in relation to respecting the sovereignty of other individuals and setting a good example.

If you are an adult cannabis user, you must have a reason.

Explain it. Be a teacher. A cannabis mentor. A debater. Talk about cannabis in a smart way. Especially when partaking, be a decent human being.

Expansive medical cannabis in Thailand will require a concerted effort in all sectors to educate everyone in the cannabis community. And it will require responses to new accusations and returns to old stigmas.

Tech will be used not to monitor you, and the amounts of cannabis you purchased at a hospital-adjacent clinic, but rather to follow the plants, the biomass as it makes its way through the supply chain.

It will also require entrepreneurial skills to provide what this new marketplace truly desires while making sure that every aspect of the enterprise complies with regulations. More leaders should be taking advantage of digital media opportunities to have their voices heard.

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About author
I write the # 1 Newsletter for cannabis in Thailand. I call it Cannabis in Thailand. I'm crazy about Cannabis Policy Analysis, Weed Business, Popular Cannabis Science, Thai Cannabis Culture & Cannabis Tourism. Live in Phuket Thailand.
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