The next cash crop.
At only 25, Thanisorn “Phet” Boonsoong is already one of the pioneers of Thailand’s formal cannabis industries with his company, Eastern Spectrum. We got in touch with Phet to discuss legalization, how cannabis could boost Thailand’s economy, and where weed is going in Thailand.
What is Eastern Spectrum, and how long has it been in existence?
Eastern Spectrum Group is a fully integrated cannabis plant cultivator and processor. We provide (primarily) hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) products.
We have been around for a little over a year, which is roughly about a year after the announcement of medical cannabis legalization in Thailand. We are currently working with two universities. Our work with Maejo University revolves around upstream innovation in unearthing new genetics and nutrient formulations to develop local agriculture while our collaboration with King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Latkrabang concentrates on downstream quality maximization. Among other things, we are exploring ways to increase the efficacy of CBD as an ingredient when incorporated into consumer products.
Do you think marijuana will be fully legalized in Thailand soon?
Definitely not. At least not in the near future. Thailand is taking steps in the right direction towards gradual deregulation of the industry, namely by first allowing its use medically, then for consumer product goods applications, and lastly general F&B consumption. But for recreational (smoking) use? I’m not too optimistic on that happening anytime soon. There’s still a lot to learn about the cannabis plant, and Thailand hasn’t yet developed sufficient infrastructure to safely facilitate the rollout of a recreational product market.
Not only that, but it’s not entirely up to Thailand to allow it, either… until the UN changes its stance on cannabis, if Thailand allows an aboveboard recreational market, it’ll likely face sanctions, much like Canada is for its allowance of the recreational use of the plant.
If it is legalized soon, what will that mean for Thailand and its economy?
I’d expect a noticeable surge in economic growth, although I may be a little biased. Thailand has some of the most optimal conditions for growing cannabis when compared to global competitors. With a potent combination of a skilled agricultural workforce and the government’s view of hemp as a new cash crop, it wouldn’t be a surprise by any measure to see a substantial rise in agricultural income. I hope to see the day when Thailand can reclaim its position as an agriculture export powerhouse, with cannabis as the facilitator of this achievement.
However, even at its current stage there is plenty of opportunity in the market, not only in the medical industry, but also in the consumer products category. I’ve seen CBD coffee, CBD energy drinks, CBD cosmetics, CBD water, and even CBD beer.
How far along is the cannabis industry here?
Still adolescent. There’s not a lot of knowledge and transparency, which comes as no surprise as it’s just been deregulated, but we have strong foundations to rapidly grow the industry. Don’t forget: the informal industry has been around since our ancestors’ time, and cannabis can arguably be considered a part of Thailand’s cultural heritage. For starters, we’ve seen cannabis used in traditional Thai medicine manuals and, of course, food. Who hasn’t heard of guay tiew gancha?
Does Thailand offer any specific benefits when it comes to growing cannabis?
On a geographical and structural standpoint? 100 percent. We’ve got a very accommodating photo-period, climate, and skilled agricultural workforce. Apart from that, the mid- and downstream sectors in Thailand are undoubtedly world-class, so the knowledge and expertise in transforming cannabis into a finished product are competitive at a global level. Combined with our location as an export hub and our industrial infrastructure, Thailand has no excuse not to flourish in this industry.
Do you think cannabis has a social stigma attached to it anymore?
Not as much as before, to be honest. The media has been extremely helpful in shining a positive light on cannabis. We’ve actually seen a lot of Baby Boomers accepting cannabis as a natural alternative remedy, mostly for sleep. Hemp seed oil and CBD are also of interest to a lot of product manufacturers. If even our parents and grandparents are accepting of a formal cannabis industry, I think that’s a very good sign!
Has it been hard to convince the government that you guys are doing something that’s legitimate?
Not at all. We’ve been strictly abiding by the law and are doing everything aboveboard. That’s also why we’ve chosen to pursue an academic and research-driven approach to this business and are working with universities to legitimize the industry. Thailand is in such a good position to experience a boom from this opportunity and we want no part in demolishing the progress made so far by being the black sheep.
What do you think the official position on cannabis is right now?
I think it’s very positive overall. The government is working hard to see deregulation come to fruition and to allow the industry to be born in a safe and controlled manner. Hemp, a subset of cannabis, is obviously seen in an incredibly positive manner. The laws are rapidly progressing for its incorporation into accessible consumer goods. Cannabis (the high THC sort) is still a bit unclear. The lawmakers are trying to create value for it in the healthcare industry but are still concerned about the informal market and its psychoactive properties.
How do you feel about cannabis-based cuisine and some of the other novelties we’ve seen come out recently?
I’m personally very interested, although I do find it a bit ridiculous at times. Nonetheless, I’ve seen the ads for cannabis leaf krapao and can’t wait to try it!
As to why I think it’s sometimes ridiculous… this might come as a bit of a buzzkill, but don’t go trying these novelties expecting to come out giddy and high. The majority of cannabinoids (like CBD and THC) are in the flowers—not the leaf, stem, or roots. Although those parts of the plant may have other health or usage properties, they definitely aren’t the parts of the plant that are going to give you that “high” sensation.