Image Source: Thailand decriminalised cannabis last year in a bid to cash in on the lucrative industry [Vijitra Duangdee/Al Jazeera]
Thailand, Bangkok/Pattaya — Thai farmers and sellers claim they are being undercut by illicit imports from the United States that sell for a fraction of the price of local buds, nearly a year after Thailand decriminalized cannabis amid promises of an economic boom.
In June 2022, Thailand removed cannabis from its list of prohibited substances. This came about as a result of a prominent effort by Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul to make the country a center for the use of cannabis for medical purposes worldwide.
However, the long-awaited cannabis bill has not yet been approved by Thailand’s government, which has left the industry’s legal structure in a state of confusion.
Local companies claim that foreign capital is filling the funding void, with many outlets around the nation promoting cheap cannabis that has been illegally imported from the US.
Local cannabis business owners claim that foreign brokers are approaching nearby dispensaries to sell inexpensive, untaxed marijuana that is then resold for two to five times its original cost.
“A decent locally grown strain goes for 300 baht [$9] per gram, but imports are only 150-180 baht [$4.50-5.30] per gram,” Prajya Aura-ek, a cannabis businessman with numerous authorized dispensaries in Bangkok, told Al Jazeera.
“Each day, brokers from Thailand and other countries try to sell us imported marijuana in our businesses. This is undoubtedly an international enterprise. But we decline them all.
According to brokers, the commodity is concealed in furniture and fruit or vegetable containers “so that customs scanners can’t tell that it’s weed,” according to Prajya.
Recreational marijuana use is still technically prohibited by Thai law. In Thailand’s larger towns and cities, cannabis shops and booths may be found on almost every other street corner, despite spotty regulation.
Prajya is concerned that Thai businesses are losing out on the increasing demand as foreigners pour into Thailand to take advantage of the country’s liberal attitude toward recreational marijuana use.
“At the end of the day, my customers care more about the potency of the THC content rather than the origin of the weed,” he claimed, pointing out that US strains may contain more THC than strains that are grown domestically.
We must safeguard the home market and assist Thai farmers and producers.
The Bhumjaithai Party, which promoted decriminalization, attributes the surge in illegal imports on corrupt officials and the unfavorable press around cannabis reform to political opportunism ahead of Sunday’s general elections.
According to Supachai Jaisamutr, a member of the Bhumjaithai Party who is leading the defense of the reforms, “There is already a law in place to deal with illegal imports but the people supposed to be in charge fail to enforce it, namely officers from customs and agriculture departments.”
But in the long run, we need to adopt the Cannabis Act in order to have a dedicated statute to deal with the problem of marijuana smuggling.
According to Supachai, the Thai Chambers of Commerce, the cannabis business contributed roughly 40 billion baht ($1.2 billion) to the local economy in 2017.
“But I think it’s fair to say it’s really in the hundreds of billions of baht,” he continued.
However, the economic advantages are difficult for many local participants to see when they are up against foreign capital.
One seasoned cannabis dealer who transitioned into a legitimate businessman claimed that after making significant investments in soil and fertilizer production, he discovered that his cannabis was too pricey for a market flooded with low-cost imports.
“Many Thai growers have turned to cannabis horticulture, trying to master their skills,” Squidroll Record, who has sold cannabis under various aliases over the course of a long career, told Al Jazeera.
“However, with the assistance of dishonest Thai officials, the Thai market has been overrun by inexpensive illicit imports. The current demand for imported flowers is extremely strong.
According to seasoned cannabis advocate Chokwan “Kitty” Chopaka, the Bhumjathai Party’s lofty promises have unsurprisingly fallen short, with huge money from the US, the Netherlands, and Canada destroying expectations of a flourishing home business.
“Unfortunately, corruption and nepotism tend to be the obstacles,” Chokwan told Al Jazeera.
She continued, “It’s really upsetting to see the folks who it’s intended to be for not being able to get into the market.
The well-publicized raids on street vendors, which targeted those at the bottom of the food chain rather than the major players who had corrupted the market, added to the dissatisfaction, according to Squidroll Record.
“Many stores are currently owned by foreigners, forcing those without access to capital to sell on the sidewalks,” he claimed.
It turns out to be just another brawl amongst opportunistic men.