Those of us keeping an eye on the burgeoning and booming cannabis industry here in Chiang Mai may be excused for being rather overwhelmed by the number of businesses which have opened up in the mere year or so since marijuana became decriminalized. There is a weed shop/café/bar/stall seemingly on every street corner of the city and it makes one wonder not just how they all survive, but with so little regulation, how consumers can determine where to find the best quality products.
What is becoming quite clear is that there is beginning to be a separation of the, ahem, weed from the chaff. Now that the novelty of decriminalization has worn off, both long term consumers and those experimenting for the first time, are now seeking not just quality, but also more competitive pricing. With so many exotic imported strains selling at astronomical prices, and so much weed left on the shelf way past its sell by date, people looking for fresh, quality, reasonably priced products must be more discerning.
And that is where Top Genetics Dispensary down a quiet soi near Nimmanhaemin comes in. Snuggled away down Sirimangkalajan Road soi 3, Top Genetics, upon first glance, looks like any other shop house; an outdoors area fitted with comfy swing chairs and a sofa set makes for a casual spot on a cool day and there is a spacious cannabis-bar inside featuring a fine selection of locally-sourced products.
But this ‘Cannabis Lounge’ doesn’t just sell weed, they are creating a community, a home, a place to go to to unwind, imbibe, meet, and play.
“There isn’t a place here in Chiang Mai for people who like cannabis where you can comfortably chill and feel Ike you are in a friend’s living room,” explained one of the owners, half Thai half French Stanley Nosten, 32. “Remember before it was legal? We used to go to a friend’s house and just sit around smoking and chilling; playing games, eating and chatting. Well that’s the vibe we want to create here at Top Genetics.”
On the second floor of this double-wide town house there is the lounge. One large room featuring a couple of sets of sumptuous sofas to sink into and a leather-sofa filled game room with a massive 65 inch screen where you and your friends can while away days playing games, watching sports or any of your favourite TV shows from virtually every country you can think of. The Top Genetics team says that they have access to hundreds of networks from around the world.
“This is what we mean by the home lounge feeling,” grinned Stanley with pride as he pointed to the fluffy cloud of a carpet I was standing on, the little snacks menu designed to meet all munchie needs, the free Wi-Fi sign, the vast selection of games available as well as the in-house cat obligingly asleep on the sofa ready for a good tickle. “We serve snacks such as gyoza and toasties, though we can order food in from any of the dozens of great restaurants in the Nimman area. We also offer smoothies, coffees and teas as well as some soft drinks. If you want alcohol, you can just bring it in yourself. It is super casual and the prices are really reasonable.” And at 60 baht for a smoothie and 50 baht for some fries it is obvious that Top Genetics isn’t here to price gouge.
Stanley, who has worked in the cannabis business prior to the opening of Top Genetics, says that the problem right now is that the quality of the cannabis available simply doesn’t match the high prices. There is a huge amount of surplus right now which is affecting the overall quality of many suppliers.
“I went to university in Holland where there is already a robust and sophisticated weed culture,” explained Stanley. “People know how to find quality and they also know what it is worth. Here in Thailand now the prices are so much more expensive than in Holland, so we want to use Holland’s price point as our guide.”
Stanley is joined by 3 of his university friends, 2 of whom have permanently moved to Chiang Mai to focus on their business, Top Genetics.
“The minute it became legal, I contacted my friends in Holland and asked if they wanted to do something about it. They said yes and here we are!”
CEO Christian Ursulescu, a university friend who had studied business says that Top Genetics is one of the top five largest indoor growers in the North of Thailand. Another university friend, an Englishman with 15 years experience in growing, is currently living in Lamphun full time and in charge of the farm.
“We are essentially a farm with a shop,” laughed Christian who is Romanian and in Chiang Mai for the first time. “Our ambitions are to to bring quality cannabis and growing techniques to Thailand to share different growing methods and open up collaboration so that the whole industry can benefit. Right now we are purchasing from Thai farms, but when our first harvest is ready in December of this year we will be offering up our own strains which are proprietary. This is what we are excited about. Our goal is eventually to do medical marijuana sales overseas and domestically. In order to do so we need to meet very high standards in terms of facilities, labs as well as selecting strains for medicinal properties.”
With high standards and expectations, the team have managed to curate a number of strains which are available for sale starting at a very low 300 baht per gram. In fact, most of their strains are priced between 300-500 baht and with rigid criteria for selection, the couple of smokes we tried were pure, tasty, pungent, pretty and yes, cheap!
“Our end goal is to help Thai farmers by raising standards of the Thai weed industry so that it matches Amsterdam or California,” said Christian. “We have a way to grow, excuse the pun, because although Thailand has a long and distinguished relationship with the plant, due to criminalization over the past many decades, we have a lot of catching up to do. First we have to raise the standards, after that we can raise the price.”
But until that time, it is all about the Cannabis Lounge and the team have promised to put on all sorts of fun activities to keep their customers and community entertained.
“We will have movie nights, sporting events, life music,” grinned Stanley. “Have you heard of bong pong?”
Er, no. But challenge accepted!