A foreigner customer sits in front of Royal Queen Seeds, on the so-called 420 World Cannabis Day in Bangkok, Thailand, 20 April 2023. EFE-EPA/NARONG SANGNAK

Amid joints and cookies, marijuana business booms in Thailand

By Nayara Batschke

Bangkok, Apr 20 (EFE).- Home delivery services, interactive maps with online products, relaxation spas and stores with brownies, cookies and joints.

The marijuana business has become a profitable activity in Thailand, where many benefit from a legal limbo in the absence of clear regulation of the businesses.

Since the country legalized the cultivation of marijuana for medical use – the first to do so in Southeast Asia – on Jun. 9, Thailand has experienced a boom in cannabis dispensaries, framed by a confusing law that does not penalize consumption for recreational purposes.

A Thai ‘budtender’ (bartender for marijuana) prepares marijuana for customers on the so-called 420 World Cannabis Day at Royal Queen Seeds in Bangkok, Thailand, 20 April 2023. EFE-EPA/NARONG SANGNAK

With nearly 8,000 stores countrywide, more than 1 million local producers and some 11 million users in the last year, according to industry sources, Thailand seems to have entered the global marijuana circuit. The nation has even seen the blossoming of a new career: the “budtender.”

“As a budtender my duty is informing the customers about the cannabis that we have and suggesting the product that suits their needs. Some customers want something to calm them down, others want to be friendly, others want to be focused,” a woman who identified solely as Melody told EFE. She’s a budtender who started in this industry shortly after the announcement of the decriminalization of the substance.

Less than 10 months later, Melody, currently the operations manager of the FourTwenty Dispensary, has seen her business “expand meteorically” and reach an income of about $205,000 per month.

“We know that many Thai people mostly survive on agriculture so cannabis can be another option to the agriculture and the farmers to choose to grow and a way for farmers to make money,” she said.

Today, the brand, which employs 70 people and only deals with products grown in Thailand, has three stores in Bangkok, as it prepares for the opening of its first store on the tourist island of Phuket later this month.

A Thai ‘budtender’ (bartender for marijuana) prepares marijuana (R) for customers on the so-called 420 World Cannabis Day at Royal Queen Seeds in Bangkok, Thailand, 20 April 2023. EFE-EPA/NARONG SANGNAK

“If we support the local business, in the future our local farmers and local growers can be in the same stage and same standards as international growers for sure,” points out the manager.

The cannabis boom in Thailand has been fueled by ambiguous legislation and a lack of regulation for its use, which has caused many to see marijuana as the “business of the future” – an industry that could achieve a flow of trade $1.25 billion per year by 2025, according to calculations by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.

Thus, overnight, hundreds of small businesses, vending machines, 24-hour stores and even elaborate “weed shops” began to populate the urban scene of the country’s cities and islands.

However, the arrival of large multinational chains and the importation of the plant from places such as the United States or Canada – a practice theoretically prohibited – represent a risk for local merchants, who have much more limited resources and production conditions.

A Thai man walks past a cartoon image smoking marijuana (L), on the so-called 420 World Cannabis Day, at the Royal Queen Seeds in Bangkok, Thailand, 20 April 2023. EFE-EPA/NARONG SANGNAK

“We in Thailand just began, so everyone just started. We have lots of costs while other countries started a while ago, so they can produce in tons at a low cost, so they can also sell for cheaper prices as well,” Melody said.

Also, despite the apparent and promising bonanza, the industry could be threatened in the face of the elections the country will hold in May, which is why local merchants advocate treating the marijuana business “with caution,” according to Kajkanit Gem, director of the pioneering company Taratera.

In this context, surveys show the majority of Thais say they are “worried” after the legalization of the substance, while some sectors have shown concern about the increase in “cannabis tourism.”

“The industry still relies a lot in the selling for expats and tourists, mostly western countries” and “there’s still a lot of backlash from the citizens in Thailand,” said Gem, adding that he defends clearer and stricter regulations on the cultivation, commercialization and consumption of weed.

“More regulations are needed to be applied in order to keep everything in a manner that won’t interfere in the lives of people who still don’t understand cannabis or are against cannabis,” said the director, adding that “The barrier to enter the market in thailand right now is super low, opening a shop is super easy, setting up a farm is super easy, the competition is going to be super super high so I think only the best can survive.”

Despite all the uncertainties, the industry is optimistic as this lucrative business “has established itself and is paying the bills for thousands of Thais.”

“The industry has gone too far to turn back now,” said Chai Suparat, who has just launched her marijuana shop after leaving her position as a kitchen assistant to venture into the world of entrepreneurship. EFE