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‘It’s just a herb’: Cannabis re-ignites passions in Asian Amsterdam

It has quickly become a thriving business, especially in the major centers.

Thanathip “Tum” Rattanaroj, owner of the Gods Gift cannabis shops in the popular Sukhumvit district of Bangkok and Pattaya, receives an average of about 100 people a day at each branch.

Between selling over the counter and wholesale distribution from the three marijuana farms he also runs, his business runs between 6 and 7 million baht a month.

“The reason I started a cannabis business is because I thought it was much better than alcohol and other drugs,” said the 39-year-old, who is also a committee member of Thailand’s Anti-Money Laundering and Drugs Commission.

“It’s just an herb. An herb that really helps with the economy and with the medical side. My family also has a spice factory. My cultivation process is quite large, so I do both research and cultivation.”

Government forecasts last year said the industry would generate annual revenues of more than 10 billion baht.

But with the smell of marijuana pervasive on many streets in Bangkok and elsewhere, not everyone is in favor of Thailand’s new revenue stream and its emergence as an Asian Amsterdam.

People smoke marijuana at the Thai High Convention in Chiang Mai in December.Credit:Getty Images

Recreational use is technically banned but widespread and remains a gray area with legislation held back in parliament. The policy change, the first in the region, is now also an important point in the run-up to the national elections in May.

The removal of the drug has been questioned by organizations including the Medical Council of Thailand, which issued a joint statement in September with 16 other groups of health professionals warning of harmful consequences if marijuana is used under supervision for anything other than medical purposes.

Opposition parties Pheu Thai and Move Forward have also challenged liberalization and blocked the passage of a cannabis and hemp control bill, as has the Democratic Party, the third largest group in Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s ruling coalition.

On the other side of the debate is Anutin Charnvirakul, health minister and deputy prime minister, whose Bhumjaithai party – the second largest party in the government bloc – gained widespread support five years ago by campaigning for pre-election decriminalization.

“It’s going to be a big fight in the election,” said Termsak Chalermpalanupap, head of the Thai studies program at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

A Marijuana Pop-Up Truck Along Sukhumvit Road In Bangkok.

A marijuana pop-up truck along Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok.Credit:Getty Images

Chalermpalanupa claims in a new academic paper that cannabis was hastily legalized without proper controls. He says, “the continued ambiguity about ‘free marijuana’ remains a serious threat to public health in Thai society.”

He adds in the paper that “illegal trade and recreational use of marijuana has raised serious concerns not only in Thailand, but also among other ASEAN members for whom marijuana remains a banned narcotic.”

Chalermpalanupa told The Sydney Morning Herald and The age this week it was “very difficult” to quit recreational smoking and there were also doubts whether customer identification checks, which have been introduced, would make any difference to who buys cannabis, and for what purpose.

“You can buy marijuana almost anywhere in tourist areas,” he said. “In Thailand, ID is not that important. Money is more important.”

There are other measures designed to regulate the market. There is a limit to the potency of the cannabis that can be sold: Only products containing less than 0.2 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical that gets users high, are legal.

People under the age of 20 are also not allowed to buy marijuana and there are penalties of up to 25,000 baht or three months in jail for smoking it in public. No online or vending machine sales are allowed either.

There have been cases of inspections and arrests of suppliers discover they are breaking the rules.

But amid reports of a quadrupling of cannabis addiction after the change in law, even those in the company recognize significant holes in the system.

“For example, to test (based on cannabis sales) I think it’s impossible because the price of checking THC is very expensive,” said 35-year-old Piyatat “Fang” Didsayothin, who operates a top-notch cannabis farm called Sweet and High in Chiang Rai with his business partner Priraphong “Jackie” Lertkraiwan, 34.

Priraphong Lertkraiwan, Left, And Piyatat Didsayothin At Their Cannabis Plantation In Chiang Rai.

Priraphong Lertkraiwan, left, and Piyatat Didsayothin at their cannabis plantation in Chiang Rai.Credit:Art Akkarawat

“For portable devices, it is not accurate at all. And the government has to spend a lot more money on equipment to cover all the shops.”

Piyatat, who ran a skateboard shop before opening the farm, and Lertkraiwan only sell cannabis flowers, mostly wholesale to stores in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

They donate many of the roots and leaves of the plants they grow to cancer patients and strongly believe in the merits of marijuana being used in traditional medicines to treat health problems, as it was in Thailand for centuries before it was banned in 1934. are now more likely to be cured,” Piyatat said. “It’s a lot easier now than it used to be.”

It’s a view shared by Audsada, the café operator in Chiang Rai, who agrees that the government has little power to control marijuana consumption as it stands today.

Audsada Kantama'S Cafe On The Outskirts Of Chiang Rai.

Audsada Kantama’s cafe on the outskirts of Chiang Rai.Credit: Art Akkarawat

“I think the government’s protocol is still not clear,” he said. “I think they still have nothing clear to control cannabis use now.”

“(But) why should they check the right to choose how people relax in a private space?”

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“People who use cannabis understand it, but people who don’t understand still think we’re junkies. But why? People I know who use cannabis all have very good careers. Most use it to relax. Some of them use it to meditate, some to relieve themselves after work, some to help sleep.”

In Bangkok, Thanathip, the owner of the shop and farm, also lets customers smoke inside to keep an eye on newcomers in particular.

Like Audsada, he believes that the government should not be concerned with cracking down on recreational use.

“In my opinion, we cannot prevent recreational use because it is just a word. It’s the same for me. If I have a headache, but I just have to smoke to relieve the headache, is that okay? Is this medical?

“Instead of worrying about cannabis, the government should be concerned about the other substances and drugs. The government should think about the quality of the flowers, how they grow, where they come from, rather than preventing or controlling recreational cannabis.

“Thailand is the only country in Asia (to legalize marijuana). We can become the largest cannabis hub in the world.”

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Merry

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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