Bangkok, Mar 11 (EFE-EPA).- Thailand in 2018 became the first country to legalize cannabis for medical use in southeast Asia, a region with some of the world’s harshest narcotics laws. Thai authorities went a step further this year by decriminalizing the drug for recreational use, a historic move that ended nearly a century of tough prohibition of a plant that was once widely used in traditional Thai medicine and cuisine.
While small businesses have sprouted and some are even flourishing, the legislation around cannabis is still murky and the path forward for weed advocates and entrepreneurs alike remains hazy.
“Even though medical marijuana is legal in Thailand, accessibility as a consumer or as a business owner is still difficult,” says Chokwan “Kitty” Chopaka, Thai cannabis advocate and Founder & CEO of Elevated Estate, an industry-leading cannabis-focused expo, fund and consulting firm.
“With recreational use being illegal, the black market is growing. Basically, most problems are about regulations, difficult accessibility, and a lack of knowledge,” Kitty says.
Thai Health Minister and leader of the Bumjaithai Party, Anutin Charnvirakul, signed a measure last month officially dropping cannabis from the list of controlled drugs, paving the way for people to grow plants at home.
But commercial licenses are still hard to come by, and even though recreational use has been decriminalized, demand is still higher on the black market as people are forced to turn to criminal sources because legal distributors have not been established.
“Access to legal cannabis is difficult, and (…) smoking and vaping are not acceptable legally. There is only medical cannabis,” Kitty says.
“Even with medical cannabis, which is being promoted a lot, people don’t want to put up with the difficulties in accessing (the drug legally), so they also turn to black market.
“Legal accessibility is limited. There are also more supplies on the illegal side.”
While people can grow cannabis and hemp for personal consumption, extracted content containing more than 0.2 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient THC, is, for the time being, still illegal.
The changes have sparked confusion across the board, from potential consumers to police and officials.
Those who want to grow cannabis for household consumption have to inform the local government before germinating their seeds, and must report the cultivation details to officials. People who grow it without notifying the authorities can face fines while those found selling marijuana products without a license can also face a prison sentence.
“I’m afraid to be arrested. I grow only one plant of marijuana and it’s hidden in the backyard garden of my home,” says a Thai villager who calls himself Saman.
“I feel uncertain that the possession of marijuana is still an offense because some parts of it can be used for recreational use.”
Saman uses leaves to cook a popular Thai dish, Tom Yum soup, and a hemp omelet as he thinks it makes the dishes taste better.
The response to cannabis-related business sectors to the recent decriminalized marijuana has been mostly positive.
Many players in Thailand, from big business to small-to-medium enterprises, are jumping on the legal weed train, with many cannabis restaurants and cafes popping up, offering drinks and food made with the leaves.
“I believe this is a good sign for the local cannabis industry. Although the big enterprises will gain the biggest advantage, small-scale businesses like us also get benefits to expand our market chance,” says Vorrapat Artmangkorn, a co-owner of Treekings OG, a small edibles company.