APEC host Thailand's budding marijuana industry faces backlash

Bangkok: Near the grand conference halls in central Bangkok where Asian leaders will meet this week, plenty of marijuana shops – the Thai capital’s newest tourist attraction- were bustling despite a controversy that compromises the developing sector.

Since Thailand decriminalized marijuana this year shops selling local and imported strains, pre-rolled joints, and chewy candies sprang up rapidly. New cafes with names such as MagicLeaf and High Society are located just minutes from the meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

But the proliferation of such businesses has started a backlash from some politicians and doctors who say the change was pushed through without guidelines and are now calling for tougher principles, or even a new ban. A weed regulation bill to govern cultivation, sale and consumption has been delayed in parliament, causing confusion over just aspects that will be legal.

“We’re in a vacuum,” one senator, Somchai Sawangkarn, told a domestic broadcaster on Wednesday, adding that announcements by the health ministry had not curbed recreational use. Southeast Asia has strict regulations prohibiting the sale and use of most drugs, but Thailand became a major exception in June when it dropped weed from its list of narcotics.

The move was initiated by health minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who framed marijuana as a money crop for farmers and supported its medical use, but recreational use exploded.

Authorities later rushed through piecemeal updates to the regulation clarifying that marijuana could not be sold to children or near schools and temples. Netnapa Singathit had a smoking room for a brief time after opening her RG420 weed store in central Bangkok, but she switched to serving drinks after authorities banned such rooms.

She called for regulation that standardizes quality, adding, “We are concerned about operators who are not compliant, and customers end up with bad products.” Recent weeks have brought a wave of news reports about hospitalizations and use by children. The president of Thailand’s association of forensic physicians, Smith Srisont, petitioned a court last week to re-list it as a narcotic.

“It was wrong to not have governing laws before unlocking cannabis … it is not being used medically, but recreationally,” he told reporters.

Yet with significant benefits to be had, many business owners are relaxed about coming changes. Anutin has ruled out recriminalization, but supports greater regulation. Akira Wongwan, the chief executive of a clinical cannabis business, Adam Group, said profit margins for recreational weeds were super high. The sector could be worth $1.2 billion by 2025, the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce has estimated.

“Most people still think at least they can get the profits now, even if regulations change,” said Akira.

By Archana

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *