From watermelon to weed: Thai farmers regret switching to cannabis as prices fall

In Thailand, cannabis growers have yet to profit from growing the crop

Since Thailand legalized the use of parts of cannabis for medical and recreational purposes in 2018, many Thai farmers have abandoned traditional watermelon cultivation and turned to cannabis cultivation, hoping to cash in on the demand. growing of the plant. However, the reality is that cannabis prices have been falling lately, leaving many farmers regretting giving up watermelon cultivation for an uncertain and fluctuating market. This situation highlights the challenges faced by Thai farmers in their quest to profit from the legalization of cannabis.

When Thailand legalized cannabis for medical purposes in June 2022, thousands of people rushed to claim their rights, including Tukta Sinnin, a small-scale farmer. This 43-year-old woman has invested nearly 500000 baht (19500 euros) to cultivate more than 400 cannabis plants on her land in Nakhon Phanom, a province in northeastern Thailand located on the banks of the Mekong.

However, almost a year later, Ms. Tukta still hasn't sold her cannabis harvest, let alone made a profit.

" I'm so disappointed. We lost money. Nobody wants to buy our crop,” she told the Straits Times. “It's not a cash crop.

The local medical marijuana market is expected to be around 43 billion baht by 2025. and medium enterprises as well as rural farmers to earn additional income.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, whose Bhumjaithai party had championed the legalization of medical cannabis, even said he wanted to turn Nakhon Phanom into a 'cannabis city' to boost its economy and appeal. sightseeing.

Convinced of the potential gains, farmers like Ms. Tukta have moved away from their land and resources spent on growing rice or rubber to grow cannabis outdoors. A few have even invested in indoor greenhouses, said Dr Banchob Promsa, head of the Cannabis Community Enterprise Network in Nakhon Phanom.

"But when the crop was ready, we couldn't sell it," he said.

Dr. Banchob, who previously ran a provincial hospital, was an early adopter of cannabis cultivation in Nakhon Phanom. He obtained permission to cultivate the plant soon after Thailand first allowed the limited use of cannabis for medical purposes in 2019.

Today, he leads a collective of around 200 farmers.

In 2022, they signed an agreement with a third-party company, which promised farmers to earn between 5000 baht and 30000 baht per kilogram of dried cannabis flowers, depending on the quality.

However, the third-party company was unable to find willing buyers to match that price, said Dr Banchob, who added that the wholesale price of dried flowers has dropped drastically.

Before June 2022, dried cannabis buds sold for between 5 and 000 baht per kilogram. But the change in legislation led to more than 7 million growers entering the industry, and due to oversupply and reduced prices, market prices are now between 500 and 1,38 500 baht.

“We couldn't make a profit. So we decided to wait for the prices to come back up,” said Dr Banchob, who has around 36kg of cannabis plants dried, vacuum sealed and stored in his shed. They can be stored for six months.

The allure of the local cannabis industry isn't just fading for farmers.

According to Ong-ard Panyachatiraksa, co-owner of the RG 420 Cannabis Store located in Bangkok's touristy Khaosan Road district, business has fallen by more than 80% since it opened in 2022.

He said: "There are so many cannabis shops along Khaosan road in Bangkok: "With so many cannabis shops along the street, there is no other option but to open a cannabis store.

Thousands of marijuana dispensaries, as well as cannabis-related businesses and products, have sprung up as a result of the loosening of the rules.

But the initial cannabis boom, which saw long queues forming outside these stores, has dissipated, especially after legal about-faces by authorities.

The lack of clarity has plagued companies, from blurring definitions of medical use to the same-day issuance and rescinding of arrest orders against cannabis dispensaries.

"Even tourists who wanted to try cannabis are afraid of breaking the law," Ong-ard said.

While large corporations such as Thailand's Charoen Pokphand Group and other international corporations have invested in cannabis-based consumer products, agriculture and pharmaceuticals, the lack of clear legislation governing the cultivation and the use of cannabis compromises the potential growth of this sector.

“Large companies face a dilemma. Foreign customers often wonder if now is the right time to enter the Thai cannabis industry, given that the law is not yet stable,” said Dr. Atthachai Homhuan, Director of Regulatory Affairs at the firm of lawyers and consultants Tilleke and Gibbins.

Also, the demand for medical cannabis products overseas is not growing as fast as expected, Dr Atthachai said.

“Foreign demand is not high, as cannabis in various forms remains largely illegal in the region. And the domestic demand is not sufficient (to counter the excess supply)”.

Prospects for Thailand's cannabis industry now hinge on the country's upcoming general election, to be held on May 14, as society worries about easy access to weed for minors and criticizes loopholes legal regulations that permit recreational use, Dr. Atthachai said.

The next government is expected to pass the long-awaited Cannabis and Hemp Bill to close these loopholes, but it may also return cannabis to the list of narcotics.

It will take some time for small-scale cannabis growers, who don't see the promised windfall, to become profitable, Dr Atthachai said, adding that they should focus on other products for more sustainable income.

That's what Panadda Bupasiri, a farmer in Nakhon Phanom, is doing. When the cannabis planting season resumes in September, this 40-year-old woman has decided not to devote as much time and land to growing this plant as before.

She said, “We are going to get back to growing watermelons. – The Straits Times/ANN

Tags : Agriculture/Growing

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