Mada, 21, works at a weed dispensary in eastern Thailand, her boyfriend grows cannabis plants at home, and several of her friends sell bongs, pipes and buds at stalls and shops. pop-up bars.
Thailand has gone “baa her”, or crazy, for cannabis since the plant was effectively decriminalized last month.
New supply chains are rapidly developing for products made from cannabis and its derivatives, from cannabis leaves used in sriracha hot sauce and gummy bears infused with terpenes – the compounds that give cannabis its taste and smell. – hemp teas and pre-rolled joints.
“My ‘Gen Z’ age group doesn’t really drink alcohol but we smoke weed,” Mada told Al Jazeera, sitting with slightly cloudy eyes behind a counter in a hastily assembled dispensary in Pattaya. .
Thailand’s removal of cannabis from its list of prohibited narcotics on June 9 was intended solely to make it easier for growers and consumers of cannabis products to access the plant for medicinal or culinary purposes. Smoking the drug for recreational purposes remains illegal.
Nonetheless, recreational use has also taken off across the Southeast Asian country, leading to a burgeoning business in cannabis buds, cookies and drinks that police are unable to thwart under existing drug laws. .
For many young people in particular, cannabis products have provided much-needed income streams following the collapse of tourism, which normally provides around a fifth of the kingdom’s jobs, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. .
“Since the law changed, you see on Instagram how many people in my age group now have a new chance to earn a living,” Mada said.
“Look at me, I have this full-time job at this clinic.”
On social media, the hashtag #saikiew, or “green lifestyle”, has become a popular way to promote cannabis products and share tips on growing the plant.
So far, tens of thousands of small farmers have registered to grow cannabis legally, while many more are reportedly trying their hand at unregistered family farms.
But the relative freedom for all that has given Thailand the most open cannabis regime in Asia may be short-lived.
With a cannabis bill due in parliament in the coming weeks, politicians are under pressure to limit – or even ban – recreational use and ensure that cannabis does not reach children.
Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul clarified last week that the relaxation of the law was intended for medical purposes.
“The whole plant is no longer (a) narcotic,” he told reporters, adding that “only the extract – not the flowers, trees or roots” with “less than 0.2% of THC” can be used, referring to the compound that provides the high of the drug.
Others fear that once the hype subsides, small businesses will find themselves with a market saturated with cannabis and forced to incur high costs to grow premium strains with better profit margins.
“It’s not that easy to grow good weed,” Piyatida Jantra, who has been growing around 100 plants per crop for three years, told Al Jazeera.
“If you just want to grow Thai varieties, you can just plant them in your garden and they will grow…but if you want to grow other varieties, you have to know how, otherwise it’s too risky to put your money. “
Experts predict that Thailand’s cannabis market could soon be worth billions of dollars a year if the law remains liberal.
Most of this sum is expected to be absorbed by large corporations that have purchased land for plantations, factory owners making high-end CBD oils, and wellness resorts that are expected to receive tourists from all over the world for treatments.
There are other details behind the headline figure that suggest the cannabis spoils are not going to Thai smallholders.
Currently, demand is high for stronger cannabis strains not native to Thailand, such as the potent White Widow, which contains up to 25% THC.
The inability of local producers to keep up with demand has resulted in illegal US imports filling Thai shelves, according to industry figures.
“About 70% of the weed circulating in the Thai market right now comes from American imports,” a longtime cannabis grower who goes by the pseudonym Squid Roll told Al Jazeera.
Cannabis dispensaries sell his premium weed for 700 baht ($19.45) per gram, two and a half times what he sells to wholesalers.
“People only see the plant as a way to make money…it’s sad because that’s not what ganja (cultivation) is.”
For Chokwan “Kitty” Chopaka, a longtime cannabis legalization advocate who recently opened the Chopaka Shop dispensary in downtown Bangkok, it’s probably too late to roll back the recreational use law.
“It’s interesting to see how society changes with the thought of ‘cha-ching’ (money),” Chopaka told Al Jazeera, citing the tax revenue of an indebted government as one of the main factors behind it. motivation to relax the law.
“Suddenly a ‘druggie’ turns into a businessman and a room grower turns into a master grower… anyone who takes a selfie with weed, the next day their phone won’t stop ringing with people asking for their help to enter the market.“