Businesses up in smoke
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Businesses up in smoke

Entrepreneurs seek greater clarity as the government prepares to recriminalise cannabis

Cannabis plants for sale at Nonthaburi Green Market. Chanat Katanyu
Cannabis plants for sale at Nonthaburi Green Market. Chanat Katanyu

A deadline set by cannabis advocacy groups is rapidly approaching for the government to justify its plan to reclassify cannabis as a narcotic.

Whether the Public Health Ministry intends to fully or partially reclassify cannabis as a narcotic, the decision must be supported by scientific evidence, said the Cannabis Future Network, one of the pro-cannabis groups, last week. The group stated the government had 15 days to substantiate its stance.

Ensuring cannabis is strictly controlled again is part of the Srettha Thavisin administration's aggressive crackdown on drugs. However, the move has sparked protests from cannabis advocacy groups, including dispensary owners who strongly supported the previous government's decision to decriminalise cannabis.

The current administration's reversal would affect plans to promote cannabis as a new cash crop and develop value-added products, leading to an uncertain future for cannabis enterprises in Thailand.

Critics and observers note a lack of clear regulations governing cannabis usage, in addition to social problems arising from misuse since the decriminalisation in 2022.

Cannabis-related products are displayed at the Nonthaburi Green Market. Chanat Katanyu


The policy flip-flop is concerning cannabis entrepreneurs because they cannot develop a business plan, said Sittichai Daengprasert, chairman of the Herbal Industry Club under the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI).

"If the government wants to back off from developing the cannabis industry, it should clearly show this stance," he said.

"Many cannabis enterprises are on the verge of going bankrupt. They don't know whether to sell cannabis oil extraction plants or continue to operate their plantations. There is no indication of a clear state policy."

The authorities plan to put cannabis back on the narcotics list by the end of this year, as instructed by Mr Srettha, according to Public Health Minister Somsak Thepsutin.

Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said the plan to reclassify cannabis as a narcotic should be studied and assessed by several health committees before any action is taken.

Although his Bhumjaithai Party pushed for the decriminalisation of cannabis during the tenure of the previous government, Mr Anutin, a former public health minister, said he would accept the outcome if health committees opt to reclassify the drug.

A clear direction for the government's cannabis policy is urgently required as investors are reluctant to take any action or advance their business plans, including exports, said Mr Sittichai.

Entrepreneurs would like the authorities to develop different laws that separately regulate cannabis and hemp, he said.

There are 10,000 cannabis and hemp farmers, while investment from individual growers and factories totals 25 billion baht, according to the FTI.

Another chunk of investment worth 10 billion baht was spent to develop five large cannabis and hemp oil extraction plants, as well as up to 30 small and mid-sized factories.


If cannabis is put back on the list of category 5 drugs under Thailand's Narcotics Act for stricter control, retailers of cannabis products would bear the brunt of the impact, while growers and entrepreneurs processing flowers from the plants would be slightly affected, according to SET-listed Scan Inter (SCN), a compressed natural gas seller and clean power operator.

Similar to other large companies licensed to run a cannabis business, SCN opted to sell dried flowers from the plants used for medicinal purposes. The company exports up to 100 kilogrammes of the dried flowers per month.

SCN chief executive Littee Kitpipit said he does not believe the change in the state's cannabis policy will affect the company's business.

"I expect the government will no longer issue new licences to entrepreneurs who want to enter the cannabis market," said Mr Littee.

It would be difficult for the authorities to revoke licences granted to existing businesses that grow and process cannabis as this would require a huge amount of compensation, he said.

"Cannabis product retailers in Bangkok and Pattaya who own stand-alone shops or run shops inside department stores would be severely affected by a reclassification," said Mr Littee.

"They are gripped with fear over an uncertain future and have been discouraged from expanding their businesses."

Growth of the cannabis market remains flat following the release of a report last year that suggested a change in the government's policy.

Sopacha Dhumrongpiyawut, chairperson of SET-listed Gunkul Engineering, a renewable energy developer that diversified into the cannabis and hemp business in 2021, echoed Mr Littee's thoughts.

She said cannabis product retailers may be forced to shutter their businesses as a result of the policy change.

However, Ms Sopacha said she expects Gunkul to keep earning money from its cannabis and hemp business this year, with revenue projected to reach 100 million baht, up from 4 million last year.

The company earned 10 million baht in the first quarter this year.

Gunkul cultivates cannabis plants and sells the extracted cannabidiol oil (CBD) to businesses that use the oil to infuse medicines, foods and cosmetic products.

Entrepreneurs believe CBD offers potential for development as medicines to treat a variety of ailments.

Gunkul earlier announced a plan to spend almost 2 billion baht to turn 200 rai on its wind farm in Nakhon Ratchasima into a cannabis plantation and production facility, with a projected capacity of 1.1 tonnes of cannabis per day.

After injecting almost 500 million baht into the development, the company decided to suspend further investment, pending clarity from the government regarding its policy on cannabis.

Mr Littee wants to see how the government will regulate cannabis as a narcotic after Mr Srettha hinted the government might continue to allow cannabis to be used, strictly for medical purposes.

Mr Littee said he does not believe Thailand can build a "cannabis economy" unless the country becomes a cannabis production hub, taking advantage of low manufacturing costs.

A neon cannabis display at a shop on Khao San Road in Bangkok on World Cannabis Day. Pattarapong Chatpattarasill


Sanga Ruangwattanakul, president of the Khao San Road Business Association, said the association is disappointed the government plans to return cannabis to the narcotics list, given Thailand was the first country in Asia to decriminalise it.

If the new regulation causes cannabis shops to close, it would affect more than 50 vendors on Khao San Road that have generated a combined 50 million baht a month, said Mr Sanga.

He said Germany last month partially legalised cannabis possession for personal use, signalling a trend that European countries will become more liberal concerning the drug in the future.

Mr Sanga said the move to relist cannabis as a narcotic may not significantly affect Thailand's tourism industry, as tourists looking for this product are a niche market.

He said retailers and farms already invested in cultivating and selling cannabis products a few years ago, so members of parliament or political parties that earlier supported the legalisation of cannabis should take responsibility by compensating the operators' losses nationwide if they are required to shutter their businesses.

Reclassifying cannabis as a narcotic could drive the business underground again, potentially increasing the risk of organised crime, said Mr Sanga.

He said the government should pass legislation to control cannabis usage rather than return it to the narcotics list.

While there is a need for stricter regulation of cannabis usage, the authorities should wait until the tourism industry has fully recovered, said Mr Sanga.

He said representatives from the tourism and cannabis sectors will soon meet to express their views on the government's latest actions.


Despite promising benefits from new CBD-based products, critics are concerned over the negative aspects of cannabis, both from an economic and social perspective.

The government's move to reclassify cannabis as a category 5 drug has gained support from groups of farmers who were licensed to cultivate cannabis plants before its decriminalisation in 2022.

Montri Yiamsung-noen, president of the Rak Kan community enterprise network in Nakhon Ratchasima, supports the government's new stance.

He said more than 90% of the farmland owned by the 435 farmers in the network, who were licensed to grow cannabis before it was decriminalised, now sits idle after the price plunged because of a glut.

A source who requested anonymity from a similar community enterprise group cultivating cannabis in Sakon Nakhon agreed.

Dried leaves from the plants used to sell for 10,500 baht per kg and orders were placed with the group a year in advance, said the source. Now the leaves sell for 5-10 baht/kg.

Several tonnes of cannabis plants harvested earlier remain unsold, said the source.

Concerns about the social and health impacts were raised after cannabis was removed from the category 5 list on June 9, 2022.

Five months after its removal, the Centre of Addiction Studies found the number of people aged under 20 who use cannabis recreationally had doubled.

The increase led to discussion about the plant's impact on the physical and psychological health of young people, especially because Thailand lacks a law to regulate the use of cannabis and hemp, said Dr Ratsamon Kalayasiri, director of the centre.

The use of cannabis for purposes other than medical or research is a sensitive issue, and a good system is needed to control access to the plant, said Dr Ratsamon.

Chariya Phuditchinnaphat, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Siriraj Hospital, said a legal mechanism is required to ensure manufacturers of cannabis-infused food and beverages accurately list the concentration of the psychoactive ingredients in their products because it would help protect consumers.

In October 2022, Siriraj Hospital reported three people were admitted after eating cookies with a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content exceeding the legal limit.

THC is a key component of the oil extracted from cannabis. Rangsit University researchers found the substance can curb tumour growth and they want to conduct more studies to see if it can combat certain types of cancer.

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