Cookies, a popular San Francisco-based cannabis and
fashion company, opened its first Asian franchise on January
21 with billowing marijuana smoke, a Buddhist monk’s
blessings, Muay Thai boxing, and ceremonial drumming within
sight of the American embassy.
The razzmatazz included
someone wielding a hand-held, long-barreled “leaf blower”
pumping bountiful cannabis smoke into eager mouths among
hundreds of Thais and foreigners waiting for hours in warm
The celebrations blurred the
financial risk Cookies and this Southeast Asian country
faces in Thailand’s rapidly changing, deceptive, cannabis
market and political arena.
Legalization could be
snuffed out if anti-cannabis opposition politicians win
elections for parliament and prime minister — possibly in
Cookies owns more than 50 retail cannabis venues
in a dozen U.S. states, plus franchises in Canada, Israel,
the Netherlands, and Spain.
“We found some [cannabis]
cultivators here in Bangkok — also in places like Chiang
Mai and stuff like that — who’ve been doing their thing and
are kind of dialed into what they’re doing,” Cookies founder
and CEO, Gilbert Milam Jr., said in an
Popularly known as Berner, he gestured
toward jars of marijuana and said:
“We have a bunch of
different cultivators with a small batch. Our goal is to
kind of figure out the ones that work best for us, and kind
of help to expand them, instead of coming here and building
like a massive facility.”
Cookies wants to “work with
them on genetics, things like that” to create new hybrids,
said Berner who is also a rapper and cannabis
Berner founded Cookies in 2010 after being
credited with creating an influential Girl Scout Cookies
Forbes magazine featured Berner, a high school
drop out, on a 2022 cover as its first cannabis
“We are not doing anything in terms of
importing any kind seeds,” said Cookies Asia General Manager
Andreas Pergher in an interview.
“That is something
that local growers can communicate with [seed] companies. It
is now legal to import seeds into Thailand,” Mr. Pergher
Even if the next government makes cannabis
illegal again, Cookies hopes to survive.
“Cookies is a
fashion and accessories brand that represents the cannabis
community. So whether cannabis is available, or it can be
sold, or not, we still have the product line, we still have
the following,” Mr. Pergher said.
Cookies projects a
young, urban, streetwise, stoner, tattooed image.
Cookies Thailand mural portrays a monkey smoking a fat
reefer under an ornate umbrella, while riding an elephant.
The elephant’s trunk grasps a glass waterpipe as the two
animals trek through a marijuana jungle.
upstairs retail room offered cannabis, clothing, and
Their hybrids grown in Thailand from
imported seeds included Madison Square Gumbo, London Pound
Cake, Gunpowder, and The Big Apple.
“London Pound Cake
is one of the Cookie signature strains that they have, so we
were fortunate to find a local grower here in Thailand that
grows this,” Mr. Pergher said.
“Indoor [grown], all
strains, 1 gram, 900 baht” — about $28 — said the Cookies’
menu for its best flowers.
vague language is loosely interpreted and enforced.
allows licensed, laissez-faire sales — but not extracts of
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or hashish — to anyone not under
20 or pregnant.
Some shops label every strain “medical
cannabis,” hoping to quell concerns over recreational
Police can bust tokers, but only for
“pollution” if someone complains about second-hand
So many retailers have opened across Thailand
that some streets offer multiple cannabis shops.
older cannabis store, The Joint, offers “Thailand’s Premium
Weed” at similar prices also on Ruam Rudee lane next to a
five-star hotel across from Cookies.
Further down is
the American Embassy’s back entrance gate between tall,
fortified, gray walls.
The saffron-robed Buddhist monk
meanwhile waved a wet rattan whisk, flicking holy water on
Berner, Thai cannabis entrepreneur Julpas “Tom” Kruesopon,
and other investors and workers.
is 90 percent Buddhist. Monks often bless residences,
commercial venues, diplomatic events, military weapons,
cars, and other things.
“I wrote the law, I got it
legalized,” Mr. Julpas told guests and workers at the
opening of Cookies Thailand — of which he owns “50
“I was the one who suggested they legalize
In 2022, Mr. Julpas partnered with a Las
Vegas-based cannabis company, Audacious, and created
Herbidus Medical Center in Bangkok.
It was the first
foreign franchise to jointly open a medical marijuana clinic
“Sleep disorder seems to be the number
one issue that people are coming to our clinic” to treat,
Mr. Julpas said in an interview.
If victorious in the
elections, the popular, authoritarian, opposition Pheu Thai
(For Thais) party and its allies vow to return cannabis to
its illegal “narcotic” status.
imprisonment for use, possession, cultivation, and sales
unless controlled by Health Ministry officials for
clinically diagnosed patients or research.
million patients and farmers who use and grow cannabis for
medical purposes will be affected,” warned pro-cannabis
House member Parnthep Pourpongpan.
Pheu Thai is
Thailand’s biggest opposition party. Its de facto leader is
fugitive multimillionaire former Prime Minister Thaksin
Mr. Thaksin is dodging a Bangkok prison
sentence for corruption, after being toppled in a bloodless
2006 military coup.
Elected in 2001, Mr. Thaksin’s
administration also oversaw a bloody “war on
“The narcotic suppression campaign of the
previous [Thaksin] government, had led to a large number of
extra-judicial killings — approximately 2,500 deaths,”
wrote the 2006 coup leaders.
Mr. Thaksin’s government
“constituted serious violation of human rights of a scale
unprecedented in a Buddhist society like Thailand,” the
junta’s Council for National Security said.
junta’s 44-page statement — sent to the Washington Times —
was titled, “Restoring Democracy in Thailand. A Factual
Account: Before and After 19 September 2006”.
Thaksin’s dismissive officials and cronies blamed the
killings on unidentified drug dealers and corrupt
After he was ousted, Mr. Thaksin’s sister
Yingluck Shinawatra was elected prime minister in
She is also a fugitive abroad after a court
found her guilty of corruption, and a military coup
dissolved her coalition in 2014.
The Pheu Thai party’s
leadership now includes Mr. Thaksin’s daughter Paethongtan
If Pheu Thai wins, Ms. Paethongtan is
widely expected to bring her father back to Thailand without
They are campaigning against the re-election
of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who legalized cannabis
Mr. Prayuth, formerly an army
commander-in-chief, politically destroyed Mr.
Mr. Prayuth participated in the 2006 coup
against him, and led the 2014 putsch against his sister’s
In 2019, Mr. Prayuth was elected prime
minister by parliament, thanks to his junta-selected senate,
and legalized “medical cannabis.”
Today the former
coup leader is running for election again — “I respect the
country’s democratic process” — but Mr. Prayuth might not
Eyes are on Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul
who enthusiastically pushed for legalizing cannabis after
meeting Mr. Julpas.
Mr. Anutin’s political base
includes farmers now expecting to profit from cannabis in
this mostly agricultural nation.
His Bhumjai Thai
(Proud to be Thai) party’s bloc of parliament seats
stabilizes Mr. Prayuth’s squabbling coalition.
Anutin’s Bhumjai Thai wins big in the next parliamentary
elections, he may become a candidate for Thailand’s next
prime minister, or join whoever needs his
He insists posturing anti-cannabis
politicians are actually anti-Anutin, trashing his efforts
to create a profitable industry because they need to defeat
him in the polls.
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
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