Thailand hasn’t always prohibited cannabis; it’s part of the culture.
Ganja plants were typically grown on the side of the house and used in traditional Thai medicine and Thai massage. Even today, some grandparents cultivate a few plants and toss a couple of leaves in their Tom Yom (traditional Thai soup).
The U.S. illicit market fueled Thai Stick exports, which came from U.S. soldiers based in the Kingdom during the Vietnam War. At the time, there was no legal or moral taboo surrounding the plant in Thailand.
Then, during the 1980s, the United States’ War on Drugs pushed Thai legislators to change the law, burdening consumers and OGs (original ganjapreneurs) with the threat of severe penalties for cannabis smuggling, sales, production and consumption.
The Kingdom has made some progress over the last few years. However, its emerging legal cannabis market is still in its beginning stages, characterized by confusing legislation, empty promises and false reporting about what’s allowed.
Still, somehow, the cannabis community is alive and well in Thailand.
Kitty Chopaka, a cannabis advocate who tirelessly contributes to the legalization efforts in the Kingdom of Thailand, opened Chopaka, a terpene-infused gummies shop based in Bangkok, Thailand. She’s one of the most knowledgeable people regarding Thailand’s legal cannabis status and works hard to educate those interested in learning the truth about the plant.
“The new market is interesting. Because we’re in Asia, many people are curious but don’t want to get high. They still want to experience it, and the terpene gummies are exactly what they needed,” Kitty explained. “These gummies give a light effect leading up to a high, so they’re not so scared to try it.”
While there’s no weed involved, these sweet treats offer something unique to satisfy those new to cannabis and complement the consumption experience for long-time consumers.
“Lots of lady customers, surprisingly, come into the shop by themselves or with their girlfriends,” she said. “Some are hidden users; others are just looking to try it for the first time. They’re curious about terpenes and how they’re related to cannabis, especially after seeing the giant neon cannabis sign in the front window!”
Rather than using illegal, cannabis-derived terps, Chopaka uses artificial terpenes to create gummies that taste and smell like popular cannabis strains.
“Natural terpenes are challenging to use in the food industry. If we use them, they’re not stable,” Chopaka explained. “The shelf life is cut in half; they don’t hold up to the heat, and the taste and smell fluctuate. And in a massive market where weed is accessible for $300 a kilo, it doesn’t make sense to sell cannabis or cannabis products at the high price natural terpene products demand.”
Since starting the operation in September 2021, Kitty has perfected her recipe and obtained the correct licensing and FDA approval. Within a few months, she opened her shop, and over the last four or five months, she has moved 200 kilograms shy of a ton of terpene-infused gummies, which has made her an inspirational success in Thailand’s cannabis community.
“This is but the beginning of cannabis in Thailand. Don’t forget, the U.S. has gone through this, and we’re going through it in our own way,” Chopaka said. “We’re doing similar things with legalization and are working with what’s allowed due to the regulatory limitations. But as soon as progress is made, all of the other guys within this community will have some interesting innovations ready to release.”
As a cannabis consumer in Thailand, Krit Choo saw that the rolling papers in the Kingdom were commercialized; the products were only sold in supermarkets and large corporate stores. He decided he wanted to change that by starting OG Papers.
“I thought I could create a paper that’s comfortable to use and has more appealing packaging than what was available on the market at the time,” he explained. “So I started conducting research and made the first version of my papers.”
The papers are now made out of 100% hemp, but his first version was made from wood pulp. OG Papers changed the material to hemp in 2020, effectively leveling up the smoking experience.
Krit worked alone on OG Papers for two years before Pim Pirom noticed that the brand could be improved and requested to join the company, ultimately leading to its Siam-style rebranding in 2021.
The operation is entirely legal, and while these papers are obviously for cannabis consumers, there’s no law in Thailand prohibiting rolling papers.
“The law doesn’t impact our operations,” Pim explained. “Because we know deep down that everyone is smoking weed already, and the papers are normally used for weed, not tobacco. Most people who purchase our papers consume cannabis. But the regulations don’t make it difficult for us to continue making and distributing our products because we don’t say they’re for weed.”
OG Papers began its operations right before Thailand began to experience legislative progress. While recreational cannabis remains prohibited, fear is dissipating in the Kingdom’s cannabis community as interest in the plant flowers.
“It’s more popular than in the past,” Krit said. “Now, people can talk about weed in public without as much fear as before. In the past, it was more taboo.”
“I can see the difference in the news and regulations, but in everyday life, it doesn’t affect us at all,” Pim added. “Big brands are coming into the market, but this doesn’t change our operations. The legislative changes are more for the corporate levels than the small businesses.”
Besides changes at the consumer level, small businesses are connecting and collaborating with one another as the Kingdom’s legislative changes tend to lean more towards the large, corporate operations.
“Many small businesses are now coming together in the cannabis community,” Pim said. “More events are drawing them out than ever before, attracting small businesses that come out to share.”
Bloom was conceived to solve one of the more significant issues in Thailand’s cannabis community: a portal to purchase quality, legal cannabis products. The Kingdom’s first “green rush” began in mid-2021, but most of the products were low-quality and gimmicky with poor branding.
“When we first started Bloom, it was even hard for us to find quality products to put on the website,” said John Williams, one of Bloom’s co-founders. “Quality companies were also having difficulty reaching the right audience.”
The company created its own line of cannabis products and established a network of trusted vendors. It offers a gateway for these qualified vendors while serving the community with quality products, education on its website, and answering questions at three to four events monthly.
“Bloom has been fortunate to have opportunities that align with Thailand’s health community,” explained Williams. “We participate in community markets, health-conscious events, concerts, and this week, we’re running a Q&A panel and workshop about women in cannabis.”
Thailand’s cannabis laws constantly evolve, but the rules are progressing towards full legalization over the last few years. With around 125 Thai local cannabis products that can be made in the Kingdom and certified easily, plenty of product options exist. The main issue is the FDA’s regulations for packaged items.
“Any store can buy cannabis leaves from a legal source and cook cannabis foods without a license,” Williams explained. “A series of new laws have been approved to allow THC in foods, too, which comes fully into effect around June. However, it must be under 0.2% total THC content.”
As a new company operating in Thailand, Bloom must be wary of the law. However, the company has forged strong connections with policymakers and receives inside information prior to most public announcements, allowing it to remain ahead of legislative changes.
Bloom also collaborates with other members of Thailand’s cannabis industry, including Golden Triangle Group, an industry leader for growth and extraction. The lead grower of this operation, Jamie Carrion, bred a nine-time Cannabis Cup-winning CBD strain, Cannatonic, into Thailand’s landrace strains to create the CBD-rich “Raksa” strain.
The company also focuses on forming collaborations with key industry players, cannabis influencers, politicians, doctors, clinics, celebrities and local law enforcement.
The word “Nudkinpuk” is a southern Thai language pronounced “Nud Kin Puk.” “Nud” translates to skilled; “Kin” means to eat; and “Puk” means vegetable. Together, these three words could be used to describe a group of people who are experts at eating vegetables.
“It started with my friend and co-founder, Beer,” explained Nuttawat Attasawat (Nut), one of Nudkinpuk’s co-founders. “We started by making a bong-cleaning product called ‘Blue Magic.’ We saw the separation in Thailand’s cannabis industry, an ongoing battle between high-quality and compressed marijuana.”
The idea behind the event was to clear the stress and problems within the cannabis community participating in the “Green Party House” in the Lat Phrao area. It grew into an event as friendships formed between the old and new generations.
“I thought about creating an atmosphere where cannabis lovers could celebrate and party together,” said Nut. “Breaking the walls from within the cannabis community was when the Nudkinpuk festival started gaining traction.”
The first event was held on the Chao Phraya cruise ship. This cruise represented those in the cannabis community who are in the same boat, encouraging members to set out together in search of friendship through weed. But the taboo nature of cannabis has caused issues while planning more events.
“The second Nudkinpuk was to take place near a forest’s edge,” Nut said. “However, between the COVID-19 situation and the fact that the Nudkinpuk festival is a marijuana-centered event, the property canceled two weeks before the event!”
As Thailand’s budding cannabis consumer market materializes, its cannabis community continues to push for full legalization. For now, these business operators must adhere to the Kingdom’s restrictions and societal prejudices while maintaining a watchful eye on the country’s evolving legislation.
The festival was rescheduled, but permission wasn’t granted when Beer went to see a new location. Instead, they had to dilute the concept to focus more on the camping in nature aspect of the festival rather than the cannabis and bands.
“On the concert side, we selected bands that talk about cannabis with love, such as Srirajah Rockers, JUU4E, Pae Arak, Swisawaard, Jahdub Stido and Srirajah Sound System,” Nut explained. “We also include guest speakers at the event, allowing festival-goers to hear inspiration from people who use cannabis to drive their lives. Some speakers include Ko Dam Koh Tao, Guide Highland, Oof Green Party and Beer Sukhumweed Industries.”
More than 20 brands participated in these events as well most notably Bong Party, Nippan Nirvana, Blue Magic Something Else, Highland, Thailand Green Party, Channel Weed Thailand, Treekings OG, Green Mile, New Atlantis, Pisit Thai & China Tradition Clinic, Squidroll, OCB, OG Rolling Papers, Releaf Mint, King Kangaroo Kush, Mr. Herbman and others.
Nudkinpuk has had to overcome some legal hurdles. This mostly has to do with the taboo prohibition the Kingdom encourages.
“With the legal restrictions unclear, many people aren’t open to cannabis in Thailand yet,” explained Nut. “But the event isn’t directly affected because rather than focusing on cannabis literally, we use the symbolism of vegetables to represent marijuana. True marijuana lovers understand that the focus of this festival is to eat vegetables together.”
Like every active member of Thailand’s cannabis community, Nut and Beer would like to see the government become more open to hearing citizens’ opinions about the benefits of cannabis. They believe that the benefits in medicine, the local economy, and recreational consumption outweigh the prejudice from the older generation that banned weed outright in the Kingdom.
As legal cannabis makes more progress in Thailand, this unique community continues to expand as ganjapreneurs share and work together towards the change they desire.