Top: Attendees queue to buy T-shirts and merch from Thailand 420 organizer Highland on Saturday in Bangkok.
BANGKOK — Nantachai Techasrivichien said it was about a year ago when he was diagnosed with acute anxiety. Soon the radio disc jockey found therapy in making things grow. At his home, he grows plants for luck and feels a unique thrill in watching their progress. About six months ago he started a new business, importing grow bags from the U.S. state of Oklahoma for sale over Facebook.
On Saturday, Nantachai was among a couple dozen vendors comprising Thailand’s infant cannabis industry at Thailand 420, where one could almost get a contact high from optimism that, although there is a long way to go, a weed renaissance is underway and decriminalization is more than a pipe dream.
“Last year, we had 200 police come,” said Rattapon “Guide” Sanrak, founder of advocacy group and festival organizer Highland. “This year? Four.”
It may seem paradoxical, but Rattapon sees progress under the military regime. Last year, there was the former justice minister and junta member declaring the War on Drugs a failure.
This year, he says officials have been receptive to their outreach and education campaign, and legislation is in the works to allow hemp to be grown for industrial purposes in the northern provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Nan, Tak, Phetchabun and Mae Hong Son.
That was the consensus of the entrepreneurs – most said they’d launched their business in the past year – and those attending the packed event atop Fortune Town on Ratchadapisek Road.
They believe Thailand will drift the same direction as the West, where the War on Drugs has been eased or called off: First is growing plants for their inherent practical applications. Next is winning support for medical uses. Then, they believe, much as elsewhere, it’s a matter of time for attitudes to change.
What will that take?
“The media can change everything,” said 25-year-old Nivit Madarasmi, as he stood in the glow of an upright UV bag that can turn any condo into a greenhouse. “You get a celebrity posing with it, and everything can change.”
A 26-year-old woman selling plushies of marijuana buds said the direction was clear.
“It’s the government. The first steps are the government and education,” said Kao-Poon, who only gave her first name.
There was, of course, no weed at the weed fest. Instead, vendors fronted the usual smoker culture paraphernalia, hemp products and innovative growing tools.
That’s where people such as Nantachai come in, who sells his aerated grow bags and is among those improving the grow tech. He said it’s high time for cultivation to play catch-up.
“The Thai brick we have smoked. People don’t know where it came from, or whether there’s pesticides or fungus in the brick,” he said. “But nowadays, more people are starting to order seed from England and growing them to improve the genetics of the local Thai strain.”
Tarin Tongwaranan, 28, started Green Monster in Bangkok about a year ago. He described the movement as similar to people growing their own food for better health, with people learning how to better cultivate healthier plants. They have one rule – no selling.
He’s also heartened by an expanding awareness, particularly in the media.
“Mainstream media have some new ideas and views about the cannabis,” he said. That’s a good sign. We talk more about it.”
And it’s not limited to Thailand. Harish Kumar traveled from Malaysia, where he says growing hemp is legal. The author of “Human Evolution and Cannabis” was there to speak and promote his furniture and other items made of hemp.
“More people understand how medical cannabis can help neuropsychological problems like depression, anxiety and PTSD,” he said. “I’ve been following this movement since the first 420 [festival] in 2015. It’s grown a lot.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Harish’s products were made from Malay hemp. In fact it is hemp imported from Thailand.