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The True Impact of Missing Cannabis Regulations On Thai Weed

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Why It Matters That There Are No Cannabis Regulations in Thailand ll Thai Cannabis Market Conditions ll Free-Market Thai Cannabis ll Anti-Cannabis Forces In Thailand ll Protecting Cannabis Freedom

1. Why It Matters That There Are No Cannabis Regulations in Thailand

See more 20th-century anti-cannabis propaganda posters here.

I published an earlier version of this article a little over 2 months ago. I’ve decided to update parts to emphasize the aspects of the story that have intensified in the run up to the Thai elections on the 14th of May. Since February, the anti-cannabis narrative I mentioned has been adapted and codified by international news outlets, Thai opposition candidates and Singapore state-run media.

The security superstate of ASEAN is not happy; it continues its attempt to influence Thai elections with propaganda disguised as enlightened opinion, demonizing cannabis users as “drug abusers” and blaming Thailand’s pro-cannabis stance for the increases in arrests and incarceration rates for individuals in Singapore found with cannabis in their possession.

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The political opposition reckoned that a delayed Cannabis Act would scuttle the broader aims of cannabis legal reform. They made sure the Act did not pass. They said they disapproved of the Act because

…it does not provide enough protection for minors.

The truth is that they fear that the Act would be popular and hurt their chances in the upcoming election.

Bangkok Post

Their thinking was that no regulation means no legalization. That proposition has proven to be false.

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Veera Prateepchaikul, former editor and current columnist at the Bangkok Post, applies his decades-long coverage of Thai politics to explain why and how the Cannabis Act stalled:

The main reason cited by the major parties for blocking the bill from becoming law is that the decriminalization of cannabis for medical and non-medical purposes as intended by Bhumjaithai [Anutins’] Party may lead to abuse by youth for recreational purposes.

That sounds fascinating in so far as it seems to take the moral high ground.

But the real reason which they are too shy to talk about is that they are afraid that the bill, if passed into law, will give a big boost to the Bhumjaithai Party in the forthcoming election.

The opposition’s plan is backfiring. In an ironic self-double-cross, blocking the Cannabis Act gave Thai cannabis a grace period – the chance it needs, as it were: a brief but nevertheless real-world audition — to show the massive profits, the sustainable new employment opportunities, the happy return consumers and so on.

The health minister decided to press on with his pro-cannabis campaign, by filling in holes that the Cannabis Act was going to fill but can’t because the entire process has been paused.

So ad hoc mandates — or cannabis dos and don’ts – issue from the health ministry and take the temporary place of legal statutes. They have been piling up; more are coming soon. The opposition reports cannabis chaos to passive journalists. The mandates seem to be working. Where is all this chaos, and how would one characterize it? 

The winning retailers will be the ones who make it a priority to discover ahead of time what the ad hoc mandates will be and adapt accordingly.  The losers will be those who think the health ministry’s initial hands-off approach is a signal that it’s fine to ignore their ad hoc guidance moving forward.

The current expansionist plans of larger dispensaries will fill their calendars for the next 6 months at least; by contrast, it appears that one-store, independent entrepreneurs are deeply concerned about the meteoric rise in the sheer number of dispensaries and its correlation to abrupt price drops for weed per gram.

Franchises like GreenHead Enterprises and chains like Phuket High — 2 mid-size dispensary companies with sharp C suites – are actively acquisitive in response to their successes over the past 7 months. The first has grown from 1 dispensary to 22 franchises; the second from 1 store and smoking lounge to 5. Both have rough and ready vertical supply chains so far as it goes. None of this is mandatory. Each enterprise from the context of its business model decided to invest in the cultivation and transport of its own.

2. Free-Market Thai Cannabis: The Most Powerful Destigmatizing Tool

Freedom to choose cannabis is greater here than anywhere else on earth. 6 months from now, we will have data on the impact of 1 year with a free-market cannabis regime in a middle-income country. There is every reason to believe that, left alone, it will result in a massive economic boom for Thailand that will last for years if not decades. Indeed, the Kingdom has already benefited from the impact of its new legal regime in the 7 months since the day it was legalized on June 9, 2022.

After 1 year of Thai free-market cannabis, Thailand should have much to teach other countries about legal reform. Including:

  • how legal cannabis raises a country’s status as a tourist destination to degrees that PR could never reach — at any cost
  • how a country can benefit from unlimited free advertising as media from around the world report on its cannabis legal reform efforts
  • how reform-minded health ministers do not have to be slaves to unreliable regulatory bureaucracies that lack any sense of the urgency of legal reform
  • that legalization can occur before the details of regulation are agreed upon

Here someone might object that while these lessons are fine things, the main promise of the pro-cannabis lobby — that cannabis will be the cash crop providing critical extra income for poor farmers — has not been kept. Not even close.

3. Cannabis and Low-Yield Farming

Illicit US imports are putting pressure on the price of weed and can leave local growers scrambling to find retail outlets for their fresh weed. Sourcing also comes from the government itself, and from the legacy market which provided high-quality indoor weed from the first day of legalization. These moves represent numbers that will never be recorded and hence never known.

Even with the addition of hemp and weed cash crops, many small cultivators will continue to suffer economically from the limitations of low-yield farming. Several smaller dispensary owners I have talked to worry that they may not have the capital to adjust to a tightening market.

Thai farmers are poor; the preponderance of true third-world poverty that still exists in Thailand is made up of ill-fated farmers. The question of cannabis and farmers then is most seriously a question of when can cannabis can be expected to reduce rural poverty in Thailand. It’s plausible that quantifiable poverty reduction occurs alongside steady growth in the number of capital infusions from foreign private investment over the coming 12 months.

If nothing stops this transfer of capital, it should be the beginning of a tax-base-expanding cannabis industry.

There is no doubt that international companies will provide practical ways for workers to spend less time in the fields and/or to get off the farm entirely and instead receive training in specialized slots with good pay along the cannabis supply chain.

In the short term, more needs to be done to encourage low-yield farmers to group together as community enterprises to scale as much as possible within often super-rural agrarian contexts. Thai cannabis is more than Top shelf and exotic, artisan flower sold to tourists at high prices. Those prices will go down. The cannabis tourists will go home.

What now seems all-encompassing can become a segment — a vibrant, cyclical slice — of the greater Thai market which will include increased demand for medical-grade flower and hemp for CBD as medicinal in hospital settings and CBD products globally.

Thai hospitals are already running short on medical-grade cannabis and demand for hemp will increase as the CBD export business takes shape. When these relationships and networks begin to emerge, then the farmers will have a fighting chance to execute at scale with their neighbors and bring in some clear net gains from selling their crops.

At this juncture, it would become feasible to talk about transforming rural spaces with extraction and manufacturing as well as indoor hydroponic and other advanced cultivation techniques.

The absence of progress on the Cannabis Act has given entrepreneurs a sensible window of opportunity to understand and implement best practices in the retail, wholesale and distribution spaces for Thai cannabis. With the right leadership over the next 6 months, Thai cannabis will be able to anticipate and adjust to regulations — without the need for confrontations or warnings. Innovate without permission…

4. Anti-Cannabis Forces In & Around Thailand

Will chaos finally engulf the new industry without clear regulations? Will dark forces take over? And finally: Will the number of children harmed by cannabis grow exponentially? Many people in positions of power in and around Thailand warn that it will. And some are willing to stake their political future on it. According to the Bangkok Post , opposition party MP for Chiang Rai, Pichet Chuamuangpan, said

…the bill posed a threat to people’s health and safety. If we become the government after next year’s elections, we’ll restore cannabis as a narcotic drug.

The same data-free talking points about the dangers of cannabis use show up in a great deal of international reporting, political speeches and propaganda from security agencies –which says more about the efficiency of the PR machine of anti-cannabis forces in Southeast Asia than it does about the validity of their claims.

Back in November 2022, An MP of the opposition party submitted a petition to the Office of the Ombudsman asking it to suspend the Ministry of Public Health’s announcement dated Feb 8, which resulted in marijuana being delisted as a Type 5 narcotic.

An MP of the opposition party submitted the petition to the Office of the Ombudsman asking it to suspend the Ministry of Public Health’s announcement dated Feb 8. The MP gave only one justification for his proposal that cannabis is returned to the list of narcotics:

Thailand has seen widespread recreational use of the drug particularly among youths.

The international press has enabled the anti-cannabis forces in and around Thailand. Many stories from Reuters and The AP insisted that the absence of cannabis regulations was a catastrophe from the beginning. It’s been months since their barrage of stories alleging chaos of Thai cannabis legalization. If one goes back to those articles, it’s easy to see that they repeat talking points that originated in public relations offices of opposition parties and drug enforcement agencies.

It’s not difficult to pick out keywords that appear and reappear and overlap in content generated by the international press, political opposition and broader Southeast Asian security agencies. Keywords and phrases, like: “necessary safeguard for public health” used with cannabis or “emergency rooms” and “cannabis addiction”. The words and phrases generate traffic with stories that rely on pre-scientific stigmas, vilification of cannabis users and scaremongering that equates cannabis use with child endangerment.

All but one political party in Thailand actively oppose the current ease of access to cannabis. Other platforms being used to vilify cannabis include security agencies tasked with expanding Southeast Asia’s Zero Tolerance war on drugs.

Who Hates Thai Cannabis?

It does not take much digging to see that neither the author nor the think tank that sponsored this article have any expertise in cannabis at all. The article is from Yusof Ishak Institute, whose Director, Mr. Choi Shing Kwok, was appointed as Director and CEO, Security and Intelligence Division, Ministry of Defence in Singapore in 1995 and held the post till 2005.

These powerful stigmas are nourished by, created by, institutions made up of a multiplicity of bureaucracies. These institutions circle back to order and law enforcement and the interdependent agencies tasked with expanding the war on drugs in Southeast Asia.

The subtext here is: you can make all the cannabis pharmaceuticals you want, just give us back our drug war. The top priority of the friends of cannabis right now must be to respond with education and enlightenment. The friends of cannabis in Thailand should be finding the common ground they share and shoring up a unified front against re-invigorated drug warriors.

5. Looking Ahead To May 14, 2023: The Anti-Cannabis Cabal & The Impending Showdown

The world will see for itself whether the horrors we are told will unfold without strict regulation ever had merit. We will be able to see whether legal cannabis use in Thailand causes:

  • increases in consumption by minors
  • increases in psychotic events
  • increases in crime
  • instances of users losing their motivation; etc.

If after 1 year big red arrows are pointing upward, and the numbers are from reliable, verifiable sources, it will be fair to say that the anti-cannabis voices were correct.

Now imagine the inverse, and the year of unregulated cannabis goes smoothly, like:

  • social problems were fixed along the way with ad hoc mandates
  • a ton of capital was transferred from wealthy nations to Thailand via retail sales and international agreements
  • thousands of Thais, displaced by pandemic lockdowns, found work — some got wealthy
  • poverty reduction came as a direct result of new capital flowing to rural areas

Assuming cannabis consumers in Thailand remain happy customers, good numbers after 1 year could make the drums of a new drug war sound hollow. Positive outcomes for Thai cannabis could then provide a guide for other middle-income countries as they devise cannabis liberalization regimes

I should think that the data will make it plain for everyone to see: if you leave consumers of cannabis alone, they will demonstrate the dynamic capacity of cannabis’ positive impacts on health and wellness.

In the same way, free-market cannabis in Thailand provides an opportunity for producers to prove that if you leave them alone, they will make everyone richer and happier. Heavily regulated markets leave room for pre-scientific stigmas.

Freedom to choose cannabis not only creates good jobs and makes people rich, but also enhances well-being and prevents ill health. 

What happens to the doomsayers when the research in this case shows that government protections quickly become unhelpful? What will the impact be of the data showing that cannabis is not addictive, does not make you go insane and that making it legal does not make it more available to minors?

When this happens later this year, continued opposition to free-market cannabis will show its true colors — the deeper motivations of those who carry on about safety and protection and the need to quash cannabis freedoms with the jackboot of drug enforcement.  

The New and Improved Southeast Asian Propaganda Machine

To see evidence of anti-cannabis powers in ASEAN demonizing pro-cannabis officials in Thailand, dredging up old stigmas and insisting Thailand return to the war on drugs, look no further than this piece on the Dangerous Unintended Consequences That Loom for Thai cannabis because it is too easy for the masses to purchase.

The article is a Master Class in non sequitur anti-cannabis propaganda that tries to frighten, shame and intimidate cannabis users as well as legal reformers in Thailand. The following is an assembly of a few key passages flagged as one of these three rhetorical techniques:

Shame: Worst of all is a lack of necessary control measures to safeguard against illicit trade and abuse of marijuana.

Fear: However, the continuing ambiguities about “free marijuana” remain a serious public health threat to Thai society.

Intimidation: Singapore, which was not on the CND, expressed its disappointment with the decision. Its Ministry of Home Affairs issued a statement warning that the move could “fuel public misperception, especially among youths, that cannabis is no longer considered to be as harmful as before, despite strong evidence showing otherwise. …” And the Ministry of Home Affairs also stressed that the CND’s move “will not impact Singapore’s zero-tolerance stance towards drugs. …”

Fear: Unfortunately, marijuana has appeared in foods, ice cream, cookies, drinks, herbal medicines and ointments, and cosmetics in Thai markets and online platforms – sometimes without clear labeling and warning on its possible adverse side effects. Existing laws and regulations seem inadequate to provide the necessary safeguard for public health and for protecting vulnerable young Thais.

Intimidation: In the chairman’s statement of the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits in Phnom Penh, issued on 11 November 2022, ASEAN Leaders “reaffirmed our commitment towards a drug-free region. We also remained steadfast in realizing this commitment amidst global attempts to reschedule certain types of illicit drugs. …”

Shame: Thailand has already ventured into its own way of marijuana legalization, whereas the other nine ASEAN members still consider marijuana as a dangerous narcotic that must be eradicated from the ASEAN Community if it is to become “drug-free”. How ASEAN members are going to tackle this serious discrepancy is not yet clear.

The anti-cannabis push in Thailand represents a fringe movement that is gaining strength. Their propaganda is often thinly disguised as political analysis. They seem skilled at making political allies who go on to denounce the legalization regime.

Today’s propaganda, sponsored by the enemies of Thai cannabis, portrays weed as a terrible drug that might be useful in hospital settings. The takeaway from these “analyses” is that the government allows public access to this physically and mentally harmful weed because they are greedy and corrupt — to the point of knowingly harming the health of its young people.

6. 3 Provisions To Upholding The Freedom To Choose Thai Cannabis 

  1.  In General: The Possibility of Relisting Thai Cannabis As A Narcotic Must Not Exist.
  1. Consumers: Consume Thai cannabis products of every kind that suits you — early and often over the next 5 to 6 months. If you are not in Thailand now make plans to come soon and support Thai cannabis. There is zero chance that the laws will tighten over the next 6 months for consumers, so there is nothing to fear.
  1. Producers and Dispensaries: intentionally build out in all directions from a medical point of view, with Traditional Thai Medicine at the center. To this end:
    1. shun negative stereotypes of cannabis users;
    2. practice pre-emptive compliance;
    3. create best practices for transactions by example (like Cookies, Kanha and Audacious).
    4. Apply yourselves to a track-and-trace regime and become the regulations you want to see.
  1. All the Friends of cannabis in Thailand: Join an online community that suits you – one dedicated to preserving cannabis freedoms. No matter where points of disagreement may lie, now is a time to put those differences aside and work together as an information hub as well as a reliable network of fresh quality weed. Form a front against those who seek to erase easy public access to weed; stay on top in the struggle for cannabis freedom. That means:
    1. find common ground among the friends of Thai cannabis
    2. generate high-quality cannabis education and discussion by leveraging assets and forging viral connections
    3. create and/or seek out places and/or networks of cannabis enlightenment that quash the rhetoric of fear with scientific research, data from the social world and common sense conclusions drawn from personal experience.

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About author
I write the # 1 Newsletter for cannabis in Thailand. I call it Cannabis in Thailand. http://carlklinn.substack.com. I'm crazy about Cannabis Policy Analysis, Weed Business, Popular Cannabis Science, Thai Cannabis Culture & Cannabis Tourism. I manage Town Hall as Cannabox CCO. Live in Phuket Thailand.
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