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Thai Ganja Digest: Special 2023 Election Edition
Year 1 of Thai cannabis: A huge economic boon; Thai cannabis tries to understand its first glut; Price, quality & Cannabis consumers; Cannabis backlashes and turning tides.
1. This piece from Financial Review contains the best and as it happens, most optimistic picture yet of the economic impact of cannabis legalization on the Thai economy: How Thailand’s $14b cannabis industry became a top election issue:
Thailand’s legal cannabis market is growing by a compound rate of 50 per cent a year, according to the US-based Grand View Research. The market was worth $US80.3 million in 2021, three years after medical use was allowed, and will be worth $US9.6 billion by 2030, its analysis says, assuming the rules don’t change.
These are valuable data points in an industry in desperate need of information to accurately assess its progress. In addition to those helpful numbers from a reliable source, the author includes this exchange to emphasize the cognitive dissonance of the youngest, allegedly most modernized party in Thailand:
…a human rights activist who worked with the party on policy development, pointed out that in the last election, party member – now leader – Pita Limjaroenrat cited the benefits of decriminalization on tourism and suggested Thailand could become a hub for medical cannabis.
“Did your stance on marijuana change according to the political climate and benefits … ?” the activist wrote on Facebook. “Your party’s approach to marijuana shifted from being proactive to reactive. The question is why did you change your stance on marijuana?”
It does look to me as though the Future Forward Party jumped on the anti-cannabis bandwagon when they thought it would bring a few extra votes. I cannot imagine anyone in leadership being truly vexed about the danger of cannabis to Thai society.
2. Al Jazeera has a piece that suggests the fate of cannabis in Thailand is entirely in the hands of the government. The title sums up the mood: Thailand’s cannabis industry says US growers are eating their lunch. I take issue.
Some Thai growers and sellers say they are being undercut by illegal imports from the United States that sell for a fraction of the price of homegrown buds.
That sentence assumes a certain picture of the Thai cannabis sector:
Thai growers and sellers are victims of criminal activity that has imported weed selling at prices much lower than the domestic weed.
The illegal importers undercut growers and sellers so much that they cannot survive in the marketplace
Having this kind of picture of the cannabis business in mind shapes one’s taste for regulations and for choosing which solutions to try and which to ignore. It makes the actions of outside players central and the agency of domestic entrepreneurs secondary. No wonder solutions from this point of view depend upon pleading with the government for protection against competition.
Local businesses say foreign money is filling the gap, with many dispensaries across the country pushing low-cost cannabis imported illegally from the US.
It’s easy to see how one could reach the above conclusion. There is a lot of foreign-grown cannabis sloshing around in an environment in which the price is decreasing. Yet, knowing as many happy Thai dispensary owners as I do, it’s not possible to take the sentence seriously unless it’s preceded by “Some…”.
Price cannot be disconnected from quality. The dispensary consumers are 90 – 95 percent foreign-born. Thailand’s capacity to meet their demand for high-quality flower was limited. They would have run out in rather short order if not for imports.
One final thought: If the problem you have with the new sector you are doing business in is that there is too much “foreign money”, it may be time to rethink your business model.
3. In an otherwise content-thick article on weed’s role in the election, Cannabis Newswire rehearses the narrative that things are terrible for Thai cannabis because of foreign supply:
For small Thai cannabis businesses, the political conflict has overshadowed the biggest issue facing the domestic market: the illicit importation of marijuana from the United States or Laos, which is five times cheaper than Thai produce.
The real trouble with this remark is not so much the absurd exaggeration that “illicit importation [of weed] …which is five times cheaper than Thai produce”, but rather the total negligence of consumer preference and product quality. If prices are the only reason that consumers choose imports, then dried cannabis flower from the US (and Canada, btw) is just the same as from Thailand, which is just the same as from Laos. This proposition is Ridiculous.
As things stand, outdoor cannabis, grown within local budgets, has improved a great deal over the past 11 months, as experts have been incentivized to re-energize the sector to meet new demand created by the new legal reforms.
By the next high season, all being well, outdoor Thai weed should be able to hold its own against the famous indoor strains. It will be poised to boast about farm-fresh local bud grown from seed to harvest in the earth. And with sane THC counts (as opposed to the indoor plants, often grown without soil and engineered to contain unnaturally high levels of THC).
Meanwhile, the capacity to grow the best indoor flower on the planet in Thailand is ramping up right now, with joint ventures investing in cutting-edge technology applied by experts with decades of experience. From this perspective, the first year of cannabis in Thailand was an unbridled success and the future is one of the truly bright spots in global cannabis.
Economic growth is the best news to come out of the Thai cannabis industry this year; we should resist the temptation to take growth for granted and complain about strangers ruining everything. There are challenges. Poor farmers and their families must share in the gains more than they have so far. The real economic growth experienced this year makes solving such problems possible.
To be clear, the growth we see is extraordinary. It was earned by individuals taking risks and working hard in a new, unpredictable industry. And no one can take that away. They can only put it out of reach in the future with a heavy load of regulations, taxation and anti-cannabis propaganda.
4. Bloomberg’s review of cannabis’ role in the elections is good at explaining the different parties and their take on Thai Ganja. It too however, places its analysis within the frame manufactured by self-interested politicians: Cannabis Backlash Gains Steam Heading Into Thailand’s Election.
Four years after Thailand’s Bhumjaithai party won almost four million votes on a vow to decriminalize cannabis — then carrying it out as the third-biggest bloc in a military-backed government — the tide has turned: most of the parties contesting Sunday’s national election are calling for the measure to be repealed and restrict the use of cannabis to medical purposes.
I’ve said this many times since the opposition began obstructing progress on the Cannabis Act to create this talking point months ago: The backlash is all smoke and mirrors.
This article ratchets up the rhetorical spin on the political ruse by changing out “backlash” with a “turning tide”. If the tide is turning, to follow one cliche with another, it’s game over.
Yes, a handful of non-Buddhist religious leaders in the south of Thailand handed their anti-cannabis petition to city halls 7 different times (photo-op heaven). Beyond that, it’s a story of political mischief. Why has the media allowed itself to be led by the nose on this?
5. The Pattaya News has a smart interview with the owner of a clinically oriented dispensary. The owner of Cliniq IQ has a high-tech solution to foreign products interrupting the Thai supply. First, the owner’s caveat:
We should clarify the difference between importing and smuggling. To my knowledge, there are only 2-3 countries in the world that can legally export cannabis – such as Israel, the Netherlands, and maybe Canada. If another country cannot legally export, then how can businesses in Thailand legally import?
This is a point worth making in today’s anti-imports climate. The word “smuggler” is thrown around a lot lately as a way of opening the discussion to anger and self-pity.
The dispensary owner goes on to express his attraction to government intervention. But then he negates the need for such intrusion into the market with a smart high-tech solution via track and trace:
Here’s a real-life example: the medical cannabis farm has a contract with the government for X amount of seeds and X amount of plants per year. Every time FRESH MEDIQ, the retailer, orders cannabis from the medical farm, we receive an invoice with the farm’s license numbers and quantity delivered per strain. The retailer then submits Form ภท 27, which reflects this new stock of cannabis inventory. As the cannabis is individually sold to patients, the retailer submits Form ภท 28, which reflects the individual sales. These two forms must reconcile and match the inventory in each shop to thwart illegal cannabis.
These two forms are currently in place but not enforced or audited by authorities – that is why illegal cannabis still remains a problem for the local Thai market. Implementing a seed-to-sale tracking system and enforcing it would eliminate illegally imported or smuggled cannabis in Thailand.
An excellent proposal. I only hope no one believes that the best method of execution is to run to the government and beg for money.
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