Rattapon “Guide” Sanrak, 31, Arun “Max” Avery, 31, Kitty Chopaka, 33, and Chaiwat “DJ Lovebuzz” Banjai, 38, are the people behind Highland (formerly “gan cha chon”), the Facebook page dedicated to raising awareness of the benefits of cannabis. Their group also lent its name to and features in the 2017 Netflix docuseries Highland: Thailand’s Marijuana Awakening, as well as participating in official government discussions on the topic. With Thailand reportedly poised to become the first Asian country to legalize medical marijuana by the end of the year, we spoke to Kitty and Max about what sparked the change.
What is Highland?
Kitty: An advocate group to try and legalize marijuana in Thailand through education and knowledge-sharing. We give very non-biassed information, offering both pros and cons, rather than trying to persuade, although we try to make sure that people learn that it’s not dangerous. We have established ourselves as providers of information rather than trying to sell—we are not dealers, though we get messages every day asking us where to get cannabis in Thailand; we don’t answer them, as we are not here to break any laws. We are also the biggest 420 [American slang for marijuana] event organizer in Asia.
There seems to be a lot of talk about making cannabis legal for medical use right now, what do you think set that off?
Kitty: The world’s change of use. Other countries are legalizing it, both for medical use and recreational. The world’s view is changing—either we get left behind or jump on that train. It will happen sooner or later anyway.
What stage are we at right now?
Kitty: Right now, marijuana is at Class 5 and they are working on putting cannabis extract for medical use into Class 2, which is the same level as morphine—this also has the negative side-effect that there will be harsher penalties if it’s used for other purposes. The good part is that you’d be able to go through loopholes to get a license to use it—it will be like California back in the day, where you could get a card to authorize you to use it.
Max: To be certified as a patient—they are aiming at the new year for this law to pass.
Kitty: After this, it could be six months to one year before all the regulations are laid out. You would also be able to grow at home as well. It’s definitely going the right direction—baby steps.
Does the Thai government actually support this?
Max: Yes. They also don’t want cannabis to fall into the same business model as beer or tobacco, where there are only a few main players—they want it to be available and accessible for everyone and even allow people to grow for themselves in future.
Kitty: [When meeting with the government] We didn’t even talk about how good or bad it is anymore as we’ve passed that step, we just spoke about how fast it would be available. No one said no to recreational use, either—they just said one step at a time.
So the government is in, but do you think super-conservative people will be against it?
Max: The lack of official information means many people have to rely on false information about cannabis; the government is planning to do communication work with Thai citizens.
Kitty: We need to give them knowledge, so they can develop more informed opinions—if they are going to judge people, they might as well have the knowledge to support it, right? Another thing that we are trying to push forward is the decriminalization of marijuana—there should be a certain amount that you’re allowed to carry.
Why should Thailand legalize marijuana?
Kitty: One of the main reasons is so it can be used for medicinal purposes. We need to have a way for people our age to take care of their parents, to have access to alternative medicine that is not as harmful as the medicines currently available, and at a lower cost as well—it’s for the older people more than us young kids.
Max: Cannabis has been a part of Thai culture for a long time and it’s a shame that we are missing out while other countries are taking advantage of this plant. On top of everything, it will build the country’s economy and create new jobs, as well as making the government more respected for legalizing it—it will make citizens happier.
What do you think is going to happen to the price of rice? Do you think rice farmers would rather grow marijuana?
Kitty: This is Thailand, so as usual everyone will want to jump on the trend. They will lose money and they will learn. There will be licenses that dictate how much they can produce, which will help. The market will become flooded—for example, in Oregon right now you can get a joint for US$1—and it will probably affect the price of palm oil, rubber and rice for a while, but eventually it will settle down.
What’s the hold-up then?
Kitty: The biggest hold-up is basically the government process, like “that person isn't here so we can’t have a meeting”, or “this person is on a work trip so they can’t sign it.” It usually takes months to move things forward in the Thai government—it’s just how things work.
Max: Previously, the government was worried that citizens wouldn’t accept it, but they did their own poll and 99.13% agreed with marijuana legalization, so they are less concerned about that now.