The opening of a Cookies cannabis dispensary in Thailand could mark the start of a cannabis revolution throughout Asia, but opposition remains.
While other countries in Asia still strictly prohibit cannabis, changes could be on the horizon after Thailand removed cannabis from its narcotics list and legalized both growing and consumption. That, combined with the post-pandemic return of tourism, has created an opportunity for cannabis businesses in the region. US-based cannabis company Cookies was quick to leverage this opportunity by opening their 58th storefront in Bangkok’s Pathumwan district.
At the end of 2018, Thailand became the first southeast Asian country to legalize medical cannabis. With regulations and supply chains still in the works, however, there’s now a thriving gray market. Thailand’s Parliament is working quickly to develop more regulations, but until then there’s a wide variety of both legal and unlicensed stores meeting the high demand for cannabis and cannabis products.
The main question now is whether Thailand will lead the way in Asia’s cannabis revolution or whether legal uncertainty will hinder the new cannabis market in Thailand.
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The Significance of a Cookies Dispensary in Thailand
While cannabis hasn’t been legal in Thailand until recently, its influence on the industry can’t be overstated. Many of the most popular Sativa chemovars owe their uplifting effects to landrace strain Thai (aka Thai Stick). A history of harsh penalties throughout nearby areas, however, has kept Thailand from officially joining any kind of legal cannabis market until now.
The opening of a Cookies dispensary in one of Thailand’s most trafficked commercial areas may signify the start of a larger mainstreaming of cannabis throughout Asia. Cookies partner and Berner associate Josh Schmidt hopes that the Cookies Thailand store will function as an international hub where people from all over the globe can gather and enjoy cannabis.
In one news release, Josh Schmidt stated, “This store is beautiful and we are grateful for our partners on the ground in Thailand who helped make this possible. Thailand is an incredibly unique place full of incredible culture and opening up a Cookies store with the support of the country of Thailand, I am grateful for. I hope Bangkok is ready for an exclusive menu of fire genetics.”
While cannabis is only legalized for medicinal purposes in Thailand, a gray market quickly established itself. The Washington Times stated, “The laws legalizing cannabis have been criticized as vague, loosely interpreted and irregularly enforced. They allow licensed, laissez-faire sales of cannabis — but not extracts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or hashish — to anyone not younger than 20 or pregnant.”
Some shops have even started labeling every available chemovar as “medical cannabis” to avoid allegations of recreational sales. In an attempt to close down this gray market, Thailand’s Parliament is working to introduce legislation that will regulate consumption, sales, and cultivation.
Could Opposition Hinder Thai Cannabis Market?
An upcoming election could determine the fate of Thailand’s new cannabis market. The current Prime Minister rose to power in 2014 through a military coup. Recently, he’s left the military-backed party that helped him take office in 2019 and joined a separate party in order to seek another term. While his government did push through the measures that decriminalized cannabis in Thailand, the opposition party is calling for cannabis to return to its previous status as a narcotic.
The opposition leader, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, led a brutal war on drugs that many described as a violation of human rights. If the opposition party wins the upcoming election, it’s suspected they’ll immediately target the previous parties policies and make cannabis illegal again.
While there’s speculation that the opposition party is attacking cannabis as a strategy to defeat the current Prime Minister in the polls, other groups are concerned about the potential for illicit trade and cannabis use among young Thais. Additionally, the lack of clarification between hemp and cannabis has caused confusion for several involved parties.
FULCRUM stated that the sudden boom in cannabis products in Thai markets and online platforms, “...alarmed the Thai Medical Council (TMC) to such an extent that it had to mobilise all of its members to warn the Thai public of the dangers of marijuana, and to oppose all forms of recreational use of marijuana. The TMC also issued its proposals on Thailand’s marijuana policy, and reiterated its objection to recreational use of marijuana, even though it continued to support careful use of marijuana for medical purposes.”
While a new regulation tightened control somewhat in November of 2022, several issues still remain. Bottom line? While legalization in Thailand has the potential to mainstream cannabis throughout Asia, the fate of Thailand’s cannabis market is impossible to discern until after the election.
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IMAGE CREDIT: Cookies Thailand partners Josh Schmidt (middle left), Berner (middle), “Cigar Joe” Thawilvejjakul (middle right), and Tom Kruesophon (right) at Cookies Thailand store grand opening (Cookies)
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