Image Source: Dr Banchob Promsa, leader of the Marijuana Community Enterprise Network in Nakhon Phanom, said that cannabis farmers have yet to turn a profit from growing the crop. ST PHOTO: TAN TAM MEI
APRIL 30 (NAKHON PHANOM) (The Straits Times/ANN): Numerous people hastened to stake their claims once Thailand legalized cannabis for medical purposes in June 2022, including part-time farmer Tukta Sinnin.
The 43-year-old woman invested about 500,000 baht (S$19,500) to cultivate more than 400 cannabis plants on her property in the north-eastern province of Nakhon Phanom, which is near the Mekong River.
However, Mrs. Tukta has yet to sell any of her cannabis crop or even make a profit after almost a year.
“I’m quite dissatisfied. Money was lost. Our harvest isn’t being purchased by anyone, she informed The Straits Times. It is not a crop for profit.
The decision to delist the cannabis plant as a narcotic was made to not only increase national income but also to help small- and medium-sized businesses and rural farmers generate additional income, with the local medical marijuana market expected to be worth roughly 43 billion baht by 2025.
Anutin Charnvirakul, the health minister, whose Bhumjaithai Party had pushed for the legalization of medical cannabis, even declared his desire to transform Nakhon Phanom into “Cannabis City” in order to increase the city’s economy and tourist attractiveness.
Farmers, like Mrs. Tukta, were lured by the potential profits and diverted land and resources from their rubber or rice crops to create outdoor cannabis fields. According to Dr. Banchob Promsa, the executive director of the Cannabis Community Enterprise Network in Nakhon Phanom, a few even made investments in indoor greenhouses.
However, he added, “when the crop was ready, we couldn’t sell it.”
In Nakhon Phanom, Dr. Banchob, who formerly oversaw a provincial hospital, was a pioneer in cannabis farming.
Shortly after Thailand in 2019 became the first country to permit the restricted use of cannabis for medical purposes, he was given permission to grow the plant.
He now oversees a group of roughly 200 farmers.
They entered into a contract with a third party company in 2022 that stated the farmers would receive between 5,000 and 30,000 baht each kilogram of dried cannabis flowers, depending on quality.
However, according to Dr. Banchob, who also noted that the wholesale price of dried flowers has significantly decreased, the third party has not been able to locate any customers ready to match that price.
Prior to June 2022, dried marijuana buds sold for between 5,000 and 7,500 Thai Baht per kilogram. However, the legal reform resulted in the entry of more than 1.38 million growers, and as a result of overstock and price lowering, market prices are currently between 500 and 2,000 baht.
“We were unable to turn a profit. We therefore made the decision to hold off until prices improved, according to Dr. Banchob, who has roughly 36 kg of dried cannabis plants kept in his shed in vacuum-sealed bags. The shelf life of these is six months.
Not just farmers are losing interest in the regional cannabis market.
Since opening in 2022, business at the RG 420 Cannabis Store in Bangkok’s popular Khaosan Road has decreased by more than 80%, according to co-owner Ong-ard Panyachatiraksa.
It would seem like there is a high demand for cannabis given all the stores that line the street, but that is not the case, he said.
Following the loosening of regulations, thousands of marijuana dispensaries as well as companies and goods related to cannabis appeared.
But following the authorities’ legal back-and-forth, the first cannabis boom that saw lengthy lineups developing outside these outlets has subsided.
Lack of clarity has had an impact on companies, from ambiguous definitions of what qualifies as medical use to the same-day issuance and revocation of arrest orders against cannabis stores.
Even those who were considering trying it have grown hesitant about disobeying the law, according to Mr. Ong-ard.
Although significant businesses, including Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Group and other international firms, have invested in cannabis agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and consumer goods, the industry’s potential growth is being hampered by the absence of clear regulations governing cannabis use and cultivation.
“Big business is facing a challenge. Given that the law is still developing, there is a lot of debate among international clients about whether it is a suitable time to enter Thailand’s cannabis market, according to Dr. Atthachai Homhuan, director of regulatory affairs at Tilleke and Gibbins, a legal and consulting business.
Additionally, according to Dr. Atthachai, international demand for medical cannabis products is not increasing as quickly as anticipated.
Since cannabis in all its forms is still primarily illegal in the area, there isn’t much demand from abroad. Additionally, domestic demand is insufficient to offset the surplus.
In light of societal worries about children having easy access to marijuana and criticism of the legal loopholes that permit recreational use, Dr. Atthachai stated that the future of Thailand’s cannabis sector now depends on the results of the country’s general election, which will take place on May 14.
To close these loopholes, the incoming administration is anticipated to enact the long-awaited Cannabis and Hemp Bill, but there is also a chance that it could reclassify marijuana as a narcotic.
Dr. Atthachai added that small-scale cannabis producers should concentrate on other crops for more dependable income because it will take some time for them to achieve a profit when they are not receiving the promised windfall.
Panadda Bupasiri, a farmer from Nakhon Phanom, is already doing this. The 40-year-old has made the decision to invest less time and space in producing cannabis when planting season returns in September.
We’ll get back to farming watermelons, she said. – The Straits Times/ANN