Asia Business Channel

Thailand set to become first country in Southeast Asia to legalize Marijuana

In November, Thailand’s cabinet pushed through a draft law that will legalize the use of cannabis for medical and research purposes, making it the first country in Asia to cash in on the plant’s burgeoning medical industry.

Jim Plamondon, Vice President of Marketing for the Thai Cannabis Corporation (TCC) said that: “The goal is to dominate the global industry.” Plamondon believes that marijuana will be legal for both medical and recreational use in a few years and that legalization will bring benefits to the agricultural, medical, merchandize and retail industries in Thailand.

Last month, the government made its first steps towards cashing in on the cannabis industry when the cabinet signed off on a draft law allowing cannabis to be used for medical and research purposes. Jet Sirathraanon, chairman of the National Legislative Assembly’s standing committee of public health submitted the draft legislation in October. At that time he said: “I’m doing this because it’s an opportunity for Thai people. Thailand has the best marijuana in the world.” Thailand has long been known for its high-grade cannabis, which for centuries was used as a traditional Thai medicine. Thailand was among the top cannabis exports in the world before it was criminalized in the 1980’s. If Thailand legalizes, the country’s Ministry of Public Health would oversee a five-year pilot program for legal medical cannabis, which would make Thailand the first nation in Asia to legalise – creating a dramatic financial boost.

Globally, cannabis is increasingly accepted as a treatment for ailments ranging from cancer and epilepsy to arthritis and migraines and according to research, the global medical cannabis industry is projected to be worth $55.8 billion by 2025. The TCC’s research says that while creating the legal framework across international boundaries would be complex, Thailand could be exporting $20 billion of cannabis by 2025 if exports are made legal.

Steve Rolles, a senior policy analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation said: “The potential for cannabis-based medicines is increasingly clear as more clinical research emerges. The problem has been that historically, drug war politics has hampered both research and access, a situation that is now, thankfully, beginning to change.”

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An indoor medicinal cannabis grow room

“Opportunities will no doubt grow as the market opens up, and those countries that are involved early will be able to establish an advantage going forward. Thailand has the climate, workforce and technical knowledge to develop a significant medical cannabis production capacity if it chooses to. It would be able to do important research that would benefit patients around the world, and would be able to establish itself as a regional, if not world, leader in the field.”

Already some government officials have seen the light. The Office of Narcotics Control Board previously granted permission for Rangsit University to possess and research medical cannabis, and the health ministry’s Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) is among those lobbying for legalization.

Dr. Nopporn Cheanklin, of the GPO said that: “The best strains of cannabis in the world 20 years ago were from Thailand. But Canada’s legal market has had a chance to modify and improve strains, surpassing the gold standard once held by Thailand. “That’s why we must develop our strains to be able to compete with theirs.” Thailand’s production costs could also give it a significant advantage over Canadian companies already leading the global market in cannabis production.

According to statistics, Canada’s three leading cannabis companies, Aphria, Aurora Cannabis and Hydropothecary were spending between 96 cents and $1.53 on production per gram of cannabis. The TCC said that Thailand’s projected production is “5 cents per gram and we think in the long run, we could get it down to under 1 cent a gram. That’s a tremendous advantage, and it’s not just because the cost of labor is low. It’s because this is a tropical climate. This is where the stuff is supposed to be growing.”

Rolles of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation said that the global cannabis sector is moving quickly, and Thailand must act soon if it wants to be a leader in the field. “There is no reason why Thailand could not produce and trade cannabis-based medicines internationally, as North American and European countries already do, but the longer Thailand, indeed Southeast Asia, more broadly, waits to enter the market, however, the more established the markets in the Global North will be, and the harder it will be to build market share against established corporate players.”

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