A Thai man sniffs marijuana plants at the Cannabis Expo in Buriram province, Thailand, April 19, 2019. Photo: Facebook

BANGKOK – A Las Vegas-based cannabis company has become the first foreign franchise to jointly open a medical marijuana clinic in Thailand, treating Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, eating disorders and insomnia in Bangkok’s flashy tourist zone.

“I hope that Thailand becomes the Silicon Valley of cannabis for Asia,” the clinic’s Thai partner Julpas Kruesopon – “or as most people in Thailand call me now, ‘Mister Weed,'” said in an interview.

“I welcome Israeli companies. I welcome European companies. The key is to grow the industry,” Julpas said.

Their Herbidus Medical Center opened March 7 along Bangkok’s main Sukhumvit Road, which is lined with restaurants, hotels, massage parlors, sex bars and extravagant shopping malls amid exotic sleaze and 5-star venues.

The US-Thai joint venture “makes us, to the best of our knowledge, the first international company with an operational presence in the Asian legal cannabis market,” Audacious CEO Terry Booth said in a statement.

Julpas said theirs was “absolutely” the first joint cannabis clinic with a foreign company in Thailand.

It “will be an exceptional opportunity to establish the Audacious brand internationally,” Booth said.

“Under the deal terms, Audacious is not required to provide capital for construction, working capital or other purposes,” the company announced in November.

“Audacious will provide advisory services, operational intelligence, including cultivation, manufacturing and product development, and expansion of brand visibility in Thailand and beyond,” the company said.

“It’s going to help Thai products be sold in the US and Canada too,” Julpas said.

Dr. Sithiphol Chinnapongse (L) and Julpas Kruesopon (R) are on the vanguard of Thailand’s blossoming medical marijuana scene. Image: Twitter

An Audacious move

Australis Capital Inc (CSE: AUSA) (OTC: AUSAF) – doing business as Audacious – partnered with Thailand-based NR Instant Produce, which manufacturers and distributes food, plus its subsidiary Golden Triangle Health, co-founded by Julpas.

“Sleep disorder seems to be the number one issue that people are coming to our clinic,” said Julpas.

“We have a THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) oil and a CBD (cannabidiol) oil that we partner up with the Government Pharmaceutical Organization of Thailand. So it’s legal, but most importantly, it’s clean.”

The clinic’s doctors examine patients and usually give them a very tiny eyedropper bottle containing liquid CBD-dominant, with 0.2% THC, oil.

“All of that, we charge 1,000 baht [US$30]. We buy [the bottled oil] from the government – 450 baht [$14],” said Julpas.

“Each customer that comes in, per ticket that we’re getting, is 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. There’s no refrigerator.”

In 2018, Thailand became Southeast Asia’s first country to legalize medical cannabis.

In 2019, just before becoming health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul said Washington’s “political propaganda” during the 1960s and 1970s intentionally tricked Thailand into believing marijuana was an “addictive” narcotic.

“During the Vietnam War, the reason why the US made the announcement that marijuana was part of the narcotic drugs was because once all the [US] soldiers consumed this kind of substance, they could sleep. It made people calm down. It didn’t make people become aggressive,” Anutin said.

Bangkok appears hesitant to legalize cannabis for recreational use, partly because it is waiting for Washington to legalize it in the US, otherwise banking and treaty arrangements between the two countries could become problematic.

At least 10 legal clinics, overseen by the Health Ministry and other officials, have treated hundreds of thousands of Thais for common and serious illnesses with CBD-dominant cannabis oil.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on the 2019 campaign trail. Photo: Twitter / Bhum Jai Thai Party

A huge need for weed

But there is not enough locally grown and processed medical-grade cannabis to meet Thailand’s needs.

For example, Daycha Oil is produced by one of Thailand’s top medical cannabis practitioners, Siripatra Daycha.

It is among the most popular CBD-based oils and is distributed by the Health Ministry.

“Illegally, at least 600,000 people buy cannabis oil from underground producers,” Daycha said in 2020. 

They mostly use a stronger THC-heavy formula publicized online by Canadian cannabis activist Rick Simpson.

Cannabis, including hemp and other products, will soon be legalized further.

“In July, it [THC and CBD cannabis] becomes a non-narcotic. And we can start shipping things in. Probably September,” Julpas said.

Recreational use remains illegal.

Audacious makes much “stronger” THC oil than Thailand, and those products could be purchased by Thai medical facilities 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, Julpas predicted.

The joint venture is also seeking other Thai partners to develop non-intoxicating CBD-infused products including beauty creams, herbal medicine, spa treatments and beverages.

Today, various Thai companies sell similar CBD-dominant products in shopping malls and restaurants, emblazoned with big cannabis leaf logos.

But Thailand is far behind America’s sophisticated marijuana technology.

“We are at the very basic start of the cannabis business here. There’s really not a cannabis THC farm like in the US with the quality control,” Julpas said.

“It’s going to be a while before Thailand can actually get to that level.”

As a result, Audacious and other US and foreign companies and investors have several opportunities.

A government-run medical marijuana farm in Thailand. Photo: Facebook

Development on a slow burn

Golden Triangle Health recently signed a five-year contract with Khon Kaen University in northeast Thailand to cultivate up to 1,000 acres, and use the university’s equipment to make CBD and other hemp-based products.

But Thailand’s education and technology are not developed enough 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 US companies,” Julpas said. “You can only do that with great technology.”

Also “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.

Julpas imagines tourists enjoying medical cannabis “wellness” spas, nestled on tropical beaches and forested hills.

“The number one 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.”

Thailand now enjoys a “first-mover advantage” in Asia because Bangkok’s cannabis laws are the continent’s most liberal.

The original Thai sticks from the 1970s were smuggled around the world. Photo: Facebook

“Our tourism slogan is, we are ‘The Land of Smiles.’ Well, shoot, give them cannabis. They’ll really smile!

“Thailand has a real advantage. We have our own strain here … Thai Stick, it’s a very famous strain.

“And we have something that other countries don’t have,” Julpas said, comparing Buddhist-majority Thailand with potential future cannabis producers, such as Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia.

“In Malaysia, in Indonesia, there’s a religious aspect to it. Which we don’t have, right? Buddhists, we’re cool, we’ll smoke dope! You can quote me on that!”

Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based American foreign correspondent reporting from Asia since 1978. Excerpts from his two new nonfiction books, Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. – Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York and Apocalyptic Tribes, Smugglers & Freaks are available by clicking here.