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Saturday, March 25, 2023

Thai stuck? The cannabis market faces political uncertainty in Thailand

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Bangkok, Thailand | Cookies, the popular San Francisco-based cannabis and fashion company, celebrated the opening of its first Asian franchise here late last month with a Buddhist monk’s blessing, a Muay Thai demonstration, and ceremonial drumming, all in view of the US Embassy.

The jazzmataza process involved a person using a handheld, long-barreled “leaf blower,” pumping copious cannabis smoke into eager mouths among hundreds of Thais and foreigners waiting for hours in the warm winter sun.

But the good times — and anticipation of better times to come — can’t hide the financial risks that Cookie and other would-be entrepreneurs now face in the tough and rapidly changing Thai cannabis market and in the country’s equally challenging political arena.

The legalization movement here that has drawn global attention could be stamped out if anti-cannabis politicians win elections for parliament and prime minister – perhaps as early as May.

As in the United States, the legalization of cannabis has been a stall, with officials hoping to capitalize on Thailand’s reputation for producing some of the highest quality pots on the market but with restrictions on distribution and sale that frequently stall. Free and legal market.

Laws legalizing cannabis have been criticized as vague, loosely explained, and infrequently enforced. They allow the sale of licensed cannabis without interference – but not THC or cannabis extracts – to anyone who is at least 20 years old or pregnant.

Some stores are labeling each strain “medical cannabis” in hopes of allaying concerns about recreational sales. Police can adjust codes, but only for “contamination” if someone complains of secondhand smoke.

Among those celebrating the opening of Cookies in Bangkok is Thai businessman Gulpas “Tom” Croisopon, who feels protective of the nascent cannabis market and its growth potential.

“I wrote the law, and it was ratified,” Mr. Julpas told guests and staff when Cookies Thailand opened, saying he had half an interest in the store. “I am the one who suggested that they legalize cannabis.”

In 2022, Mr. Julpas partners with Las Vegas-based cannabis company, Audacious, and establishes Herbidus Medical Center in Bangkok.

It was the first foreign franchise to jointly open a medical marijuana clinic in Thailand.

Pot and politics

The fate of cannabis here may depend on the course of the upcoming elections, which could bring about major changes after a prolonged rule by authoritarian Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who first came to power in a military coup and whose government was pressed through the measure. To decriminalize cannabis.

If he wins the next election, the opposition Pheu Thai (for Thais) party and its allies vow to restore cannabis to its illegal “narcotic” status. This includes imprisonment for use, possession, cultivation, and sale unless controlled by Department of Health officials for clinically diagnosed patients or medical research.

Pro-cannabis MP Paranthip Porpongpan warned that “more than 1 million patients and farmers who use and grow cannabis for medical purposes will be affected”.

The de facto leader of Pheu Thai is the fugitive millionaire and former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Mr. Thaksin fled Thailand to avoid a corruption penalty after he was overthrown in a bloodless military coup in 2006. While in power, his government waged a bloody “war on drugs” that critics said included serious abuses of the judiciary and human rights.

After Mr. Thaksin was ousted by the military in 2006, Mr. Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected prime minister in 2011. She is now on the run abroad after a court found her guilty of corruption, and the military coup that first brought Mr. Thaksin into power. Prayuth dissolved its coalition power in 2014.

The leadership of the Pheu Thai party now included Mr. Thaksin’s daughter, Paethongtan Shinawatra. If Pheu Thai wins, Ms Paethongtan is widely expected to send her father back to Thailand and take aim at the Prayuth government’s policies, including legalizing cannabis.

Prayut is running for re-election, but many say his eight-year grip on power has been called into question after he left the ruling Palang Pratcharat Party earlier this month to run for a nascent new party. The move reportedly came after a power struggle with Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, a military comrade of decades who took over the Palang Pracharat Party three years ago.

Political engineers are watching Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who has pushed passionately for the legalization of cannabis. Mr. Anutin’s political base includes farmers who now hope to profit from cannabis in this predominantly agricultural country.

If Mr. Anutin Bhumjai Thai wins big in the upcoming parliamentary elections, he could become a candidate for the next Prime Minister of Thailand or be the kingmaker in a coalition government.

He insists that anti-cannabis politicians’ stances are in fact targeting him, scuttling his efforts to create a profitable industry because they need to beat him in the polls.

Even if the next government makes cannabis illegal again, Cookie hopes to survive.

“Cookies is a fashion and accessories brand that represents the cannabis community. So whether cannabis is available, can be sold or not, we still have the product line, we still have a following,” Asia managing director Andreas Berger said in an interview.


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