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Asia is revving up to be the next “green rush” market, and a handful of counties are looking to be at the head of the economic boost. So far, it appears that Thailand is positioning itself at that forefront. Cannabis oil extracts produced by both the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation and Chao Phraya Abhaiphubejhr Hospital are set to be prescribed and dispatched to registered patients next month. According to the Bangkok Post, there are now about 400 medical doctors, pharmacists and dentists, as well as 2,900 Thai traditional medical practitioners, authorised by the Ministry of Public Health to prescribe the medicines to patients. Phra Achan Fan Acharo Hospital will also produce traditional Thai medicines using marijuana seized by police in drug crackdowns.

This may come as a surprise to those familiar with Thailand’s history with marijuana persecution, including laws that could result in 15 years in prison and a large fine for cannabis possession. However, the country was also the first Asian country to legalize medical marijuana. A key member of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha’s coalition is pushing for full legalization of Thailand’s cannabis market, projected to grow to $661 million within five years, according to industry researcher Prohibition Partners. It is expected that the Asian marijuana market will swell to $8.5 billion by 2024.

 Anutin Charnvirakul, the millionaire leader of political party Bhum Jai Thai and deputy prime minister and public health minister, is seeking to further remove restrictions that make it difficult for medical patients to obtain cannabis products. The Thai government is also aware of the boost in tourism that legalization would provide. According to The Thaiger, the new Thai minister for tourism and sports says he can lure Europeans and Americans back to Thailand with the promise of massage and marijuana, and that he hopes plans to promote the two will become a reality between six months and a year. A document released by the office of Prime Minister Chan-Ocha states that, "The study and technological development of marijuana, hemp, and other medicinal herbs should be sped up for the medical industry to create economic opportunity and income for the people."

Thailand’s moves haven’t gone unnoticed by neighboring counties in the region, and some of them are considering amendments of their own. Both Laos and Malaysia are considering medical legalization, and the lower legislature in the Philippines, a nation undergoing an extremely deadly and harsh war on drugs, has passed a medical marijuana measure of its own. “For Thailand to become the Asian leader in the cannabis space, it would most likely require that neither China nor Japan legalize cannabis,” says Alexandra Curley, Prohibition Partners’ head of insights. 

China and Japan could be the biggest Asian markets, with revenue estimates at $4.4 billion and $2.1 billion over the next five years, respectively. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime explains that China’s enormous consumer base and Japan’s exorbitant cannabis prices ($53 a gram, currently the world’s highest) make the two markets highly valuable. Brian Armstrong, chief executive officer of Vinzan International, a Canadian agricultural trading company currently building cannabis operations in Laos and seeking to expand in Thailand, says that “the Asian market will challenge and perhaps surpass the North American markets in the next 5 to 10 years.”

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By RJ Blade

RJ Balde is a freelance writer, host, actor, performer, having worked in cannabis writing and advocacy for the last decade. RJ has worked with numerous organizations and media companies in cannabis writing, show hosting, and advocacy, including Airtime, Eaze, SDA Media, TRICHOMES.com, and WeedTube.

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boblee 3 years ago
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