BANGKOK – The approval of a law legalizing medical cannabis has sparked a green rush in Thailand, the only Asian country to legalize the drug for medicinal purposes apart from Israel, triggering a so-called “green rush” over the weed’s potentially hugely lucrative business opportunities.
Julpas “Tom” Kuresopon, a Thai investor in medical marijuana in Canada and the United States, told EFE that the plant’s cultivation and trade in Thailand could raise $20-30 billion per year from local consumption and exports.
But despite the excitement, Julpas warns that the law relating to medical and research-related use of cannabis passed on Dec. 25 features stringent restrictions which have yet to be completely implemented.
Currently there are only two officially-sanctioned plantations in Thailand allowed to grow a particular strain cannabis with less than 1 percent Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s main psychoactive ingredient, and supply hospitals or government research institutes.
“That means you cannot grow marijuana tomorrow in your backyard,” the entrepreneur said at a conference last week.
Julpas, who helped organize the conference, predicted that the implementation of the medicinal cannabis laws could take up to two years.
Around 300 people, ranging from businessmen in suits to activists and weed enthusiasts in t-shirts, attended the conference to learn about growing medical cannabis and its legality in Thailand, which for decades has aggressively prosecuted recreational smokers and low level dealers.
Each plant could provide an income of around 70,000 baht ($2,200), according to activists’ estimates.
According to the law, companies aiming to grow or trade in medicinal cannabis need to have at least two thirds Thai capital, although foreign companies such as CBD Med Card would be allowed to manage databases and logistics for future producers and users.
During the event, a video was played featuring a person claiming to have cured himself of cancer thanks to marijuana, findings which no scientific study has supported.
Don Land, an American with 35 years of experience of growing cannabis in the US and Thailand, believes that within two to four months many more farmers will be able to cultivate cannabis for therapeutic or research purposes.
The expert has pinned some of his hopes on the Bhum Jai Thai party, which has promised to accelerate the full legalization of marijuana for recreational use if elected in the March 24 elections.
Land the research director of the Thai Cannabis Corporation, which has been collaborating for nine years on a project linked to the Royal Household of Thailand about the experimental cultivation of the plant in rural areas.
TCC estimates that in the next 10 years the export of cannabis could grow to account for 1 percent of Thailand’s GDP, or $4 billion annually.
Medical use of cannabis is only legal in countries such as Uruguay, Israel or the United States, where it is prescribed for patients with epilepsy, Parkinson’s or migraines, as well as those suffering from cancer and other chronic conditions.
The favorable meteorological conditions in Thailand, where weed has been used as a traditional medicine for centuries, could turn the plant into the country’s principal cash crop.
A clinic in Bangkok has for two years been offering remedies using cannabis according to traditional Thai medical formulas.
One of the doctors, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of legal repercussions as the clinic does not yet have a license, said that the recipes for these medicines were available on the Health Ministry’s website.
The doctor claimed that the prescribed medicine containing marijuana, including THC and CBD (cannabidiol) helps ease patients’ pain and can even cure cancer.
Despite the legal challenges, the clinic has for years been providing treatment to patients such as Jamnong, who receives an intravenous treatment with a mixture of various herbs, including cannabis, to treat his liver and intestine cancer.
The clinic is not alone in providing clandestine treatment to cancer patients.
After his girlfriend was diagnosed with hepatitis and cancer, Yuttapong joined a secret club which has been distributing medicinal weed to patients for more than a decade.
The group operates from a rock bar with wooden furniture in Bangkok where guitars, bongs and distillation flasks jostle for space.
If arrested, the club’s members risk up to five years in prison for possession or transport of up to 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of cannabis, while possession or distribution of larger quantities could attract jail terms of up to 15 years.
Yuttapong says that regardless of the incoming laws, the club would continue promoting cannabis’ medical benefits and culture.
“Here we don’t just help patients, but we also share our experience and knowledge of cannabis oil,” Yuttapong told EFE, shortly before nonchalantly using a bong to medicate.