Boom time for Thai cannabis

Boom time for Thai cannabis

Cultivation of the plant will be decriminalised this week, opening up a range of commercial opportunities for villagers and businesspeople

Cannabis is to be removed from the Category 5 narcotics list on Thursday.
Cannabis is to be removed from the Category 5 narcotics list on Thursday.

Cannabis is scheduled to be removed from the Category 5 narcotics list on Thursday, allowing people to grow an unlimited number of plants at home.

The delisting of cannabis as a narcotic does not mean people can use it freely, especially for recreation. Homegrown cannabis is allowed only for health and medical purposes, and people have to register the cultivation first with provincial administrative organisations, or via the mobile application Pluk Kan, developed and operated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Despite the legal easing, extracts containing more than 0.2% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, will still be recognised as a Category 5 substance and regulated under laws pertaining to narcotics control and suppression.

Anyone who intends to grow marijuana plants for commercial purposes will have to seek permission from the responsible authorities.

A cannabis plant grown at Maejo University in Chiang Mai.

Benefits for all

Sittichai Daengprasert, chief executive of JSP Pharmaceutical Manufacturing (Thailand), a medicine and nutritional supplements distributor, sees both villagers and businesspeople benefiting from the growth of the cannabis industry, with the potential for further development into various products.

Only oil extracted from marijuana with a THC content greater than 0.2% will be categorised as a narcotic, meaning other parts can be legally planted and traded for medical purposes, health promotion and other businesses.

Mr Sittichai said the move should kick-start the development of cannabis in a range of industries, from medicine to cosmetics and food, marking a "new era" for the plant in Thailand.

While entrepreneurs will be able to set up new businesses, the public now has new medical treatment options that could help them save money, he said.

Cannabidiol (CBD) oil extracted from cannabis can be used for the treatment of many ailments.

The CBD oil market has an estimated value of 100 billion baht, according to JSP.

"People or companies who want to do business involving marijuana plantation and oil extraction can register online or via mobile app," said Mr Sittichai.

"This will enable the government to regulate the industry."

JSP and representatives of cannabis farmers and factory operators recently met Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul to discuss a proposal to reduce the legal procedures required to run cannabis businesses.

Cannabis-infused drinks are showcased at the opening of the Public Health Ministry's Institute of Medical Cannabis. Pornprom Satrabhaya

The easing of these rules should help community enterprises that plant marijuana and supply it to factories, said Mr Sittichai.

In the meeting, participants suggested the government allow companies that hold Good Manufacturing Practice and International Organization for Standardization certifications to increase CBD oil content in their medicines and nutritional supplements to more than the legal limit of 75 parts per million for export purposes.

Other countries have high CBD oil content in their products.

"A higher CBD content will allow Thailand to have a competitive advantage because we can grow the raw material [marijuana] and we have plenty of it," he said.

JSP is in talks with cannabis and hemp associations on the proposal to set median prices for the plants and their extracted substances to prevent a price war, which will directly affect farmers.

"Everyone agrees with this proposal and is preparing to discuss further details," said Mr Sittichai.

"This will ensure fair prices in the market and prevent large wealthy companies from buying plants in huge amounts."

Five large SET-listed companies have diversified into the cannabis sector. There is concern their entry into the market may affect small and medium-sized companies, eventually leading to market monopoly.

right  CBD oil from cannabis is displayed at a Ganja and Hemp Expo. Bangkok Post

Right move

Sanan Angubolkul, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said although Thailand is an agricultural country, most farmers own relatively small plots of land.

The number of farmers is also diminishing as new generations migrate to cities.

In addition, farmers face myriad problems including climate change, unstable crop prices, and a lack of knowledge about farming management and development, he said.

"Promoting cannabis cultivation in Thailand is the correct move as many countries around the world move to push it as an economic crop," Mr Sanan said.

"Strong global demand for cannabis will help raise Thai farmers' income and narrow inequality in the agricultural sector."

Visitors snap pictures of ganja plants at a Ganja and Hemp Expo. Bangkok Post

However, he warned that attempts to promote cannabis as a cash crop will prove a challenge because of its reputation as a narcotic, possibly causing doubts among the public.

Every facet of cannabis applications, including cultivation, extraction, processing into medicine, distribution, and supervisory laws and regulations, need to be clarified to provide better public understanding, said Mr Sanan.

"All sectors have to discuss creating a supervisory mechanism for self-control of a farmers' network and government control measures to ensure rigorous law enforcement," he said.

Boonyong Tansakul, chief executive of Zen Corporation Plc, the operator of the Zen Japanese restaurants, said cannabis-related businesses are expected to see enormous growth after the removal of the drug from the Category 5 narcotics list.

According to Mr Boonyong, food and beverage operators currently are wary of diversifying by using cannabis as an ingredient because of uncertain supply.

"Demand for cannabis now far exceeds supply, resulting in hefty prices. I believe more business operators will use cannabis as an ingredient in their food and beverages once cannabis production and supply surges," he said.

"The removal of cannabis from the Category 5 narcotics list not only helps increase the growth of cannabis-related businesses, but also the overall economy as the weed can provide new careers and income for farmers."

Grow with the flow

Kattikamas Thanyajaroen, executive officer of Than Global Travel, a wholesale operator that offers cannabis tours, said the delisting of cannabis as a narcotic would help spur international demand in Thailand.

However, she said the Public Health Ministry must set out more details to limit the number of cannabis plants people can grow at home because local commodity enterprises and operators who already invested in the cannabis business and received permits will be directly impacted by the relaxation.

Ms Kattikamas said prices of fresh cannabis leaves have already dropped to 2,000-3,000 baht per kilogramme, down from 15,000 baht.

Cannabis tour operators will likely have more competitors from new entrants with homegrown cannabis, but are lacking the legal knowledge to guide tourists, she said.

below  Restaurants display menu items that use cannabis leaves. Pornprom Satrabhaya

The ministry regulated a guarantee stamp to prove CBD products are under the limit of 0.2% THC, as recommended by the World Health Organization, meaning tourists can take products they buy home without facing legal penalties.

Ms Kattikamas said 80% of cannabis tour customers are Thai, but operators expect more arrivals from investors, especially from China, the US, Japan and Malaysia, as well as medical tourists after Thailand further relaxed pandemic restrictions on June 1.

The Omicron variant hindered the revival of the tour business in the first quarter this year, as people who booked tours had to cancel at the last minute because of infections or being stuck in quarantine, she said.

Ms Kattikamas said Than Global Travel plans to introduce full cannabis packages by the end of this month, thanks to the hype generated by the government's legalisation.

"After the decriminalisation, it is important to attract tourist demand to the country, particularly for recreational purposes," she said.

"The government may launch cannabis sandboxes in major destinations such as Phuket or Koh Phangan."

Ms Kattikamas said tourists are advised to book cannabis tours via group tours to ensure they have the correct information and are supervised by tour experts.

Tea made from hemp is on display at a hemp and cannabis expo. Bangkok Post

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