BANGKOK — A Las Vegas-based cannabis company has become the first foreign franchise to enter a joint venture for a medical marijuana clinic in Thailand, treating Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, eating disorders and insomnia, smack in the heart of Bangkok’s flashy tourist zone.
The Thai government is hoping to foster a major marijuana-based industry that will lead the regional competition and benefit from a global reputation for the quality and potency of the local crop.
Thai officials also are eager to exploit what economists call a “first-mover advantage” in Asia. Bangkok’s cannabis laws are now among the continent’s most liberal, and its products are globally known.
“Thailand has a real advantage. We have our own strain here … Thai Stick. It’s a very famous strain,” Mr. Julpas told The Washington Times in a recent interview. He added that local players hope to attract Israeli and European companies to invest as well.
“The key is to grow the industry,” he said.
The joint U.S.-Thai Herbidus Medical Center opened on March 7 along the Sukhumvit Road, a major commercial boulevard lined with restaurants, upscale hotels, massage parlors, sex bars and extravagant shopping malls.
The joint venture “makes us, to the best of our knowledge, the first international company with an operational presence in the Asian legal cannabis market,” Terry Booth, CEO of Las Vegas-based Audacious, said in a statement.
The government made Thailand the first Asian nation to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes in 2018. In February, officials made Thailand the first Southeast Asian nation to decriminalize private pot use by removing cannabis and hemp from the government’s list of banned narcotics.
It “will be an exceptional opportunity to establish the Audacious brand internationally,” Mr. Booth said.
Audacious did not give working capital for the Bangkok outlet but said in a November statement that it would “provide advisory services, operational intelligence, including cultivation, manufacturing, and product development, and expansion of brand visibility in Thailand and beyond.”
” It’s going to help Thai products be sold in the U.S. and Canada, too,” Mr. Julpas said.
The company’s biggest medical market so far is those with sleep problems. The company is partnering for its THC and CBD oils with the official Government Pharmaceutical Organization of Thailand.
“So it’s legal, but most importantly, it’s clean,” Mr. Julpas said.
The clinic’s doctors examine patients and typically provide a tiny eyedropper bottle containing liquid CBD-dominant oil.
“All of that, we charge [$30]. We buy [the bottled oil] from the government” for the equivalent of $14, Mr. Julpas said.
“Each customer that comes in, per [the] ticket that we’re getting, is [spending] around $125 before they walk out” with a slew of other made-in-Thailand lotions and potions on sale in glass display cabinets.
“And we’re bringing Audacious products in. The profit margin on the gummies is around 60%. Logistically, it’s the easiest thing to bring into Thailand.”
“It’s light,” Mr. Julpas said, and “there’s no refrigerator.”
Bangkok appears hesitant to legalize cannabis for recreational use partly because it is waiting for Washington to legalize the substance in the U.S.
Federal hesitation in the U.S. has left banking and treaty arrangements between the two countries problematic for the cannabis trade, but Thailand is pushing ahead on other fronts. At least 10 legal clinics, overseen by the Health Ministry and other agencies, have treated hundreds of thousands of Thais for common and serious illnesses with CBD-dominant cannabis oil.
Thailand does not have enough locally grown and processed medical-grade cannabis to meet its needs.
Daycha Oil, made by one of Thailand‘s top medical cannabis practitioners, Siripatra Daycha, is among the most popular CBD-based products. It is distributed by the Health Ministry.
“Illegally, at least 600,000 people buy cannabis oil from underground producers,” Mr. Daycha said in 2020. They mostly use a more potent THC-heavy formula touted online by Canadian cannabis activist Rick Simpson.
Cannabis, including hemp and other products, will soon be legalized further.
“In July, [THC and CBD cannabis] becomes a non-narcotic. And we can start shipping things in. Probably September,” Mr. Julpas said.
Audacious makes much “stronger” THC oil than Thailand, and Thai medical facilities could purchase those products to treat patients and allow officials to research higher doses.
Stronger THC treatment would be classified as “research,” which will become permissible under medical supervision in July, Mr. Julpas predicted.
The joint venture is seeking other Thai partners to develop non-intoxicating CBD-infused products such as beauty creams, herbal medicine, spa treatments and beverages.
Catching up with the U.S.
Various Thai companies emblazoned with big cannabis leaf logos sell similar CBD-dominant products in shopping malls and restaurants, but the local industry is far behind the sophisticated marijuana technology in the U.S.
“We are at the very basic start of the cannabis business here. There’s really not a cannabis THC farm like in the U.S. with the quality control,” Mr. Julpas said. “It’s going to be a while before Thailand can actually get to that level.”
Audacious and other U.S. and foreign companies and investors have several opportunities.
Golden Triangle Health recently signed a five-year contract with Khon Kaen University in northeastern Thailand to cultivate up to 1,000 acres and use the university’s equipment to make CBD and other hemp-based products.
Thailand‘s education and technology also have to be upgraded to create medical-grade products on a large scale.
“We need to find a way to extract more efficiently. Right now, the yield is not very good. So I think that is a real opportunity for U.S. companies,” Mr. Julpas said. “You can only do that with great technology.”
Then there’s “product-tracking, from the seed to the grower to the flower to the extraction. There’s really not a lot of companies in Thailand that can do that. I think that is something American companies can do.”
The biggest money is in medical cannabis tourism, not patients visiting clinics, he said.
Mr. Julpas imagines foreign tourists flocking to Thailand to experience medical cannabis “wellness” spas, nestled on tropical beaches and forested hills. Cannabis could be an economic engine to revive a critical economic sector that was devastated by the global travel shutdown brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The No. 1 market, I truly believe, for Thailand cannabis use is actually not going to be Thais. It’s going to be tourists. Tourists from India, from China, from Europe, who come here. China has a billion people who can’t sleep.”
“And we have something that other countries don’t have,” said Mr. Julpas, comparing Buddhist-majority Thailand with potential future cannabis producers such as Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia.
“In Malaysia, in Indonesia, there’s a religion aspect to it, which we don’t have, right? Buddhists, we’re cool, we’ll smoke dope. You can quote me on that.”
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