The future of cannabis in Thailand: talking regulation in Phuket

cannabis in thailand dispensary

Thailand’s cannabis regulation landscape is currently at a crossroads, with industry leaders and government officials sounding off on their concerns fairly regularly. This uncertainty has led to many to question what the future of cannabis looks like in a country where things are really just getting started. As someone who has been covering the scene for awhile, I wanted to know more about what the feelings on the ground were, and will the smiles keep going.

Back in January I was offered the opportunity to speak on a panel discussion as part of an event being put together by Taratera. Hailed as the High-Dezvous, this event is part of a series that brings together a multitude of industry professionals from within Thailand and abroad to speak and engage with the community at large with the purpose of educating on different aspects, from science to regulation and more.

Nestled in Old Town Phuket, The Dispensary by Taratera hosted the High-Dezvous session, and brought everyone together as a community for this special event. Speaking with CEO Kajkanit “Gem” Sakdisubha, the location was previously used for textiles, but the reimagining of this Sino-Portuguese building as a dispensary is nothing short of spectacular. I have seen many dispensaries in my day, and this is on the top end as far as unique, historical, and just plain awesome. 

cannabis in thailand
Interior shot of The Dispensary Phuket Photo: Josh Freeman

Where Grass meets class

For guests attending this panel, an exclusive seed drop of Compound Genetics was handed out from Taratera, who have partnered together for genetics in Thailand. Also available for purchase was their new partnered lineup, including Menthol V2, Apples and Bananas, Gastro Pop, and Pave. The Dispensary is true to its name, with a good selection of flower from Compound including Cookies collaborations, merch, and more. 

On-site was also the delectable Phuket Sausage for anyone craving meat in tube form, which I can attest to be fantastic. Along with Singora ice cream, delivering scoops of happiness to all those who were looking to cool down from the island heat. Drinks were flowing as well, with some special Highland DDH Hazy IPAs on offer, a collaboration brew between The Brewing Project and Highland Cafe.

Regulations closing in

While the final outcome of the upcoming changes in cannabis regulations in Thailand has still yet to be solidified, community events like these help educate and bring people together for what is and has always been a very social plant. It’s easy to get lost in the media headlines, claiming everything is over and the party has ended, but that’s simply not the case. Like any new market, Thailand faces challenges in regulation, but an entire reversal seems impossible, and people within the industry agree with that sentiment, from budtenders to business owners. 

Some business owners have already moved to including a traditional Thai medicine doctor on site, in anticipation that the new regulations will force a medical card requirement. Others are waiting to see what the regulation will actually be like before making any substantive changes to their current business model. In the end, we will see new regulations, but how those are implemented and enforced remains to be seen.

High-Dezvous panel Q&A

Among the attendees on the panel were key figures in the Thai cannabis scene, such as Poonwarit “Thames” Wangpatravanich, President of the Phuket Cannabis Association. Also included were representatives from HippieBear, Jungle Farm, and Taratera; all winners or runners-up in the Phuket Cannabis Cups, notable cannabis businesses like Grandma Jazz from Kamala, and yours truly.

Hosting the panel we had Korn Surasak Jitboon of Phuket High asking the important questions. I have included below some excerpts from the almost hour-long conversation that I believe are important to the discussion of Thai cannabis and its regulation.

highdevous cannabis in thailand panel
Highdevous cannabis in Thailand panel. Photo: Josh Freeman

To Thames, do you mind shedding light on what happened in the public hearing at the Ministry of Public Health on Friday, the 12th? We saw you standing up for the mic so many times and appreciate your efforts for the industry, but the question is, will they listen to us? 

Thames: So we went to the Health Minister department on the 12th of January to the public hearing regarding the new cannabis act, and what we learned and what we realized is that maybe they intentionally make the regulation so extreme. When I say extreme, I mean is more extreme than when cannabis used to be a narcotic; for example, when cannabis used to be narcotic, if you grow at your home and they find out you got fined 20k baht, but now after it becomes decriminalized, it becomes controlled herbs, now it’s 50k or 100k baht. Doesn’t make any sense, right?

So I think they intentionally make it on the extreme side of regulation and they want us, the people of Thailand, to tell them what we agree, what we don’t agree with, and hopefully we will have a second draft. Then, with that second draft, hopefully we don’t have to change much. And then they will submit it to parliament, after the senators and everyone agree all together. Which of course, as the people of the industry, we want to be able to lobby these senators for them to understand why we should let cannabis be well regulated, but be for everybody. 

To every panelist, what is your definition of recreational? 

Grandma Jazz: Hi guys, my name is AC from Grandma Jazz dispensary in Kamala. We have created something on our own over there which we are actually trying to change the idea of recreational stigma from stoner culture to cannabis culture. I believe it’s something that is quite important to be done because the whole world is watching us, etc. So we should behave ourselves anyway, but recreation is different for everyone, you know. I like to sit down and read a book, and I also like to play PlayStation. They are both recreational things, so we have to understand what recreation means to people and support that in the most gentle way we can.

Josh Freeman: When viewing cannabis, it’s easy to place the usage in two categories: medicinal and recreational. However, I believe that anyone who smokes or uses cannabis regularly, if they look inward as to why they started and why they continue, they can trace back the usage to a medical reason. 

A user who has cancer and cannabis helps ease their pain and increase their appetite would obviously be considered a medicinal user, but the restaurant worker, or driver, or name a profession, who indulges after work to clear their head and help them relieve stress might be seen as recreational, but even that usage has a basis in medicinal as the user is getting pain relief and reduction of anxiety and stress without the use of pharmacology. So, I am not sure recreational truly exists for consistent users, but would only be applicable to users who are only buying and smoking as a source of entertainment and have no plans to continue using cannabis on a regular basis. 

To Josh, what is the world outside of Thailand seeing us right now? 

Josh Freeman: The biggest thing the Western world sees is the sensationalist news every time a change is even considered. Here are some recent headlines: 

Thailand reining in cannabis legalization, focusing on medical and research – GreenState

Thailand to clamp down on cannabis use in major U-turn on drug policy – The Guardian

Thailand To Reconsider Cannabis Decriminalization Amid Thriving Market – Forbes 

These types of headlines, while click-worthy, do not paint an accurate or complete picture of what the landscape in Thailand truly is. When speaking with western brands who are looking to expand internationally, this type of news coverage makes them feel uneasy. Even still, with all the investment and business who have already committed, we are beginning to recognize Thailand on the international cannabis scene as one of most exciting areas for growth potential. 

To Grandma Jazz, as a retailer, if they were to provoke any sort of ‘medical card’ or the situation where every retailer needs to turn into a clinic, how would you react? 

Grandma Jazz: Good question. I think either way we need to be prepared for the whole medicinal umbrella, which is going to be continuing what we have started here to go forward. And I think in terms of a tourist perhaps being charged a certain amount for some sort of green card to then show up at Grandma Jazz dispensary, show us the card, where does that leave us? That’s good, that’s people regulating, which is good, however, we need something as well on our side.

In terms of education, training, awareness, human psychology, all of these things are really really.. Uhm. We are discovering people are coming to us with real reasons, every reason is different for their use. We need to be ready for what those things might be. We need to listen and understand and not push sales, give discounts, or recommend our favorite strains to everyone. We can advise; we have to be gentle, and we have to be really, really careful as people who are standing here, as tourists, are coming to see us we are representing Thailand, cannabis, and bigger things, too. I think we are ready. This isn’t a bad thing. We need regulation. We don’t want anyone to get hurt, right?

So let’s get it regulated, let’s keep things safe, let’s keep things responsible and respectful. Personally, I’m a visitor in this country. I plan to stay here as long as I can. I love Thailand. It’s my obligation to not stain any reputation, to present what I am doing the best way I can, to benefit Thai people, to benefit everyone around. So I think if we all move forward with this ethos, of moving together, building a community in an industry that is moving very fast. It’s the community that is going to glue us together moving forward. Sounds cheesy, but I just smoked some cheesy stuff before this, so..

To Josh, as a tourist, do you see any difference from buying cannabis directly from budtenders or the need to be ‘prescribed’ by a doctor first? Which do you prefer? 

Josh Freeman: In my personal opinion, I would prefer to just be able to walk in and purchase the products I would like to partake in, but as a veteran in the industry and longtime user, I already understand my needs. For new users, however, who may be suffering from an ailment cannabis can help with, a doctor’s prescription may better be able to help advise them on what products would work best for their needs (smoking, vaping, edibles, topicals, etc). However, I don’t think it should be a barrier to entry, but possibly allow for larger purchases or higher-dosed products if prescribed.

To K’Thames, in the hearing you mentioned “Wellness tourism” and you call it vague, can you elaborate please? Why vague is good for you? 

Thames: We were talking about why we wanted to focus on the term wellness tourism. Because in Thailand especially, we have two extreme parties. One only believes in medicinal (cannabis), those pharmaceutical companies, they want to only do medical because they can control its value and believe it’s better for humankind. Now, there is another side that just wants to enjoy cannabis every day, like a happy person, right? Now, the problem is the term recreational because the term recreational to medical is the opposite, right? 

So we were saying… What does recreational mean? It means delightful, recreational means happy, means relaxation, that’s recreational. So the word relaxation or delightful is actually the foundation for health and well-being, to begin with anyway. Because if you are not delightful, if you are not relaxed, how can you rest, how can you sleep? And if you cannot sleep, then you cannot eat, right? So technically, the foundation is the same: recreational and wellness.

So what if instead of using the word recreational so that people can go against us, we change it? We say for well-being, for wellness lifestyle, you know, and slowly, slowly, we change people’s mind. To show people this is what cannabis is all about. It’s not about just getting stoned every day is way more in depth. So what we are trying to do is collaborate with all the people here as well, start using the term wellness tourism, wellness. Phuket is a tourism city, so why not utilize it. Why do we have to call it something people are against? We just call it something that makes people happy, and we stay the same, and we enjoy the same while still living the same. 

So that’s what I meant by wellness is so vague. Because it’s so vague, we have flexibility to do what we want to do. Of course, regulation has to be established so that we protect everyone’s benefit for health and well-being and for people who have invested a lot of money here. If anyone can grow and can grow a lot, then what is the point of investing in this business, anyway? So, of course, there needs to be some regulation.

To Josh, Josh obviously you see regulations from all over the world. If you were given the pen to draft the new cannabis act for Thailand, what would you do? 

Josh Freeman: I would allow for both a recreational and medicinal market to exist and have them taxed at rates that make sense for the consumer who would be purchasing them. With a portion of the taxes generated going back to education in the market amongst consumers, I would clear up the confusion about edible and concentrate products, removing the gray area around them and allowing companies to be able to make use of all of their products. 

I would require lab testing on all products being sold to the public, both for recreational and medicinal use, allowing the consumer to believe in the products they are ingesting. Seed-to-sale tracking so the entire life of the product is captured, and batched appropriately in case of any issues. I would not limit it to one tracking software, however, and just have a list of requirements the software would need to provide to be certified to be used in Thailand. I would impose a moratorium on importation of all cannabis products to make sure Thai-invested partners can be on an equal playing field. 

This article was submitted by a guest contributor to GreenState. The author is solely responsible for the content.

Josh Freeman Josh Freeman is a seasoned professional in the world of cannabis, bringing a unique blend of financial acumen and a passion for exploration to the forefront of cannabis journalism. Based in San Diego, CA his day to day is working as a Senior Financial Analyst at a prominent Multi-State Operator (MSO), but his true love lies in discovering and sharing the incredible experiences that the cannabis plant offers. Join him on his quest to uncover the hidden gems and vibrant stories that lie within the world of cannabis, and let his passion for exploration ignite your own journey of discovery.