Culture

California Goes to Thailand

It’s going down in Thailand’s cannabis scene and you can see plenty of California influence on the marketplace on their new, very open medical marijuana market. 

Earlier this month I visited Thailand to check out what legal medical cannabis looks like six months in. It’s wild. There are now hundreds of dispensaries operating in Bangkok. In some cases, you’ll find a dispensary with a cannabis street cart operating across the street. As Thais wait to see what the final regulations look like, they are doing their best to take advantage of the moment. Currently, you don’t need a doctor’s recommendation to access cannabis. 

And one of the best ways to take advantage of the moment? Proven practices. A number of the first-wave Thai cannabis business people are familiar with California and other American markets. As opposed to attempts to create their own retail theory, the Thais are leaning on the things that have worked in California for the last 25 years. 

One of the funny things is, you’re kind of seeing every kind of dispensary at once. Those who are scared the law might change have a street cart or minimal indoor infrastructure because they are scared it might not last like those in California prior to 2008. The middle of the pack is nicer retail environments with minimal upgrades similar to those years early in The Obama Administration before the landlord letters from the Department of Justice. The final tier of Thai dispensaries is already all the way in. They have LED screens everywhere and primo retail space. As far as they’re concerned. cannabis is completely normalized.

A street cart with a dispensary directly behind it in Bangkok’s Japanese Village. – Photo: Jimi Devine

But the biggest link to California? Commercially viable cuttings. It was very difficult to find authentic Thai genetics. Thailand’s cannabis seemingly isn’t quite ready for full production when it comes to local genetics. We lucked out and had a Thai Stick and a local hybrid that was crossed with some California dessert weed at Phandee in Bangkok, but it was few and far between. The best cannabis we saw was grown by Dr. Dope in Bangkok. Their Double Dawg and Sensi Dawg were the two nicest things we saw grown in Thailand. 

Ron Brandon, the founder of California brand Kingston Royal, emphasized it’s not just American genetics we’re seeing. He thinks the market is emulating stateside practices in every form possible. 

“I think that genetics are obviously a huge thing. You can see that when you walk up to any of these trucks, you walk inside any one of these dispensaries, there’s just a bunch of genetics from American brands bred by American breeders,” Brandon told L.A. Weekly. “I think California is a culture in itself, whatever, it’s the epicenter as far as cannabis goes. So I mean, you’re going to see a huge influence from California in every single aspect. You see the mylar starting to transition out here in the stores as well. California did dispensaries bigger and better than anyone first, right? And you can see that they just took the California model.”

As for the thing that surprised him the most about the scene six-months into legalization?

“It feels just like back home, right?” Brandon replied. “For the most part, but then there’s the Thai way.”

Josh Schmidt is helping Cookies move into Asia. Schmidt and his Thai partners brought two groups together to form Cookies Asia Co. Schmidt has been visiting Thailand since 2005 and eventually married a Thai woman. 

“In 2005, I traveled to Thailand with thoughts of taking a three-week break from cannabis, as laws were so strict. Fast forward to living in Thailand four years and having to consume cannabis in secret,” Schmidt told L.A. Weekly. “I grew plants on my balcony and at my in-laws’ in the Northeast and was worried daily someone might find out and cause problems. I used to go to a Reggae Bar on Khao San and get bags of pressed Lao brick to hold me over. I dreamt of days like today in Thailand, as good cannabis was the one thing I was missing from my daily routine.” 

Schmidt went on to point to Thailand’s rich underground culture pushing the plant along since those days. 

“Similarly to USA, we are seeing a convergence of underground and new players and it’s creating a fresh, vibrant scene very few have experienced before,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt reminds everyone to play it cool when they visit. 

“Being a Californian in Thailand we have to remember that Thailand is still only legal for medical use and we shouldn’t exploit the laws or push any boundaries,” he said. “We have to respect the law in Thailand and learn about “Thainess.” With a uniquely rich history, Thailand is very different from California (or the West for that matter) and we always need to remember where we are and what the Thais have done to keep their heritage and traditions uniquely “Thai.” I have been blessed to be a part of Thailand’s growing cannabis community and am excited for what is to come over the next years!”

We’ll keep an eye on the developing market in Thailand and its impact on the wider cannabis conversation in Asia. 

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