Thailand’s removal of cannabis from its illegal narcotic list has led to a sprawling new industry.
Michael Balderstone, president of Legalise Cannabis Australia, will tell you that as far as he’s concerned, all forms of cannabis consumption are medicinal, including those usually considered recreational. And in Thailand, this seems to be the broad general view the nation has taken.
The Thai Ministry of Public Health reclassified the entire cannabis plant from its category 5 listing as a controlled narcotic last February, and the measure took effect on 9 June, with health minister Anutin Charnvirakul handing out 1 million homegrow plants to households to mark the occasion.
This move came after cannabis medicines, like oils and pills, were officially legalised on 18 February 2019, in order to treat 38 registered conditions. And by November that year, over 14,000 patients were receiving prescribed cannabis medicines.
Since all of the cannabis plant’s parts were liberated in June, the official word on its use is that it’s limited to medicinal purposes, with recreational use restricted.
While the much-anticipated Cannabis and Hemp Act, which is to create broader regulations around the burgeoning market, was sent back for redrafting on 15 September.
So, how this has all translated on the ground is that the Balderstone definition is at work, with medicinal applying to all forms of cannabis consumption, whether that be pills via a script or smokable buds bought at the local store, while outlawed recreational use is rather hard to define.
Greenhead Clinic is located directly across the street from the north end of Bangkok’s tourist mecca Khao San Road. And the signage on its front door makes clear that they have legal laboratory-tested organic medicinal cannabis, and it also makes the catchphrase suggestion to “stay high”.
Co-owner Tanet told Sydney Criminal Lawyers that Greenhead Clinic opened “to give the medical to the people who need the medicine”, and he underscored that it’s not for any other purposes.
As cannabis shops in Thailand generally do, Greenhead Clinic is operating in cooperation with a licenced cannabis farm, which is a relationship overseen by the Thai Ministry of Public Health.
“The products we have are flowers, hemp, edibles, CBD and we also have special cream and shampoo,” explains Tanet, as he points out the various products, which include large glass jars containing various strains of cannabis buds and an array of impressive pipes.
There’s also a range of edibles, gummy bears and brownies, which meet the Thai Food and Drug Administration regulation on extracts. This requires that the weight of a product is made up of no more than 0.02 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive component of the plant.
“We have just opened for two months. This is the second branch,” Tanat advises. “The first branch is in Phuket, and we have another branch in Bangkok. There are about 21 branches that have already signed a contract with us.”
Public health sponsored
Three and a half hours down the highway in the nation’s third largest city Nakhon Ratchasima, or Korat for short, there are no signs that cannabis was decriminalised in June. Indeed, the streets aren’t lined with stores selling buds, as they are in certain sections of the capital.
But Korat does have a dispensary that would be the envy of many an Australian medicinal cannabis patient who has found that our nation’s system is so convoluted that they can neither obtain it from regular health practitioners or from the new cannabis clinics due to the steep prices.
The Maharat Nakhon Ratchasima Hospital’s Medical Cannabis Clinic opened in 2019. And while hospital staff in Australia have recoiled in horror at the thought of prescribing cannabis medicines to patients, Thailand has made it readily accessible via the public healthcare system.
SCL located the clinic in the state-run hospital and ascertained from staff that an individual cannot simply walk in and request cannabis medicines. A patient must first see a doctor, who may prescribe the medicine if they consider it the right treatment following a diagnosis.
A staff member further explained that it can be prescribed to treat insomnia, some types of pain and epilepsy. And the full range of 38 conditions also includes opiate dependency, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, inflammation and Crohn’s disease.
As of last year, 339 medical cannabis clinics and 449 Thai traditional medicine clinics were operating out of Ministry of Public Health hospitals, which shows that the nation has embraced the medical qualities of the plant, rather than take the tentative approach that our country has.
“Recreation for health”
The Thai House of Representatives voted to send the Cannabis and Hemp Act back for redrafting on 14 September, which may not allow enough time for it to be passed by parliament during this current term, as it comes to an end next March.
And despite the fact that shops, like Greenhead Clinic, are lining the streets in centres such as Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and the capital, certain MPs are still raising fears that the plant might be used recreationally – whatever that means – and others are calling for it to be relisted as a narcotic.
Meanwhile, back on Khao San, the scene was booming in mid-September compared to the month prior, and the cannabis stores are doing a roaring trade, although the overwhelming majority of tourists continue to frequent bars to drink alcohol.
The strip’s most popular cannabis outlet RG420 seems to have bridged the medicinal/recreational divide though, with two women out the front holding placards displaying a new range of product under the title, Recreation for Health Category.
So, for those looking for a bit of “recreation for health” cannabis, the RG420 range consists of pre-rolled joints, Cannabis Thai Sativa Gandang, Sativa Tanawsri and Sativa Phetchaburi.
And if you do partake of these substances in the store’s smoking room, just be warned that the consumption of cancer-causing tobacco is strictly prohibited in there.