‘It’s like Starbucks’: Inside Thailand’s Legal Weed Scene

by | Jun 9, 2023 | Cannabis Legislation, Local News: Cannabis, Marijuana Insights | 0 comments

Image Source: Mary Jane, a cannabis store on the corner of Patong Street in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photos by Jittrapon Kaicome for The Washington Post)

BANGKOK — The location appears to be a cocktail bar, but it is actually tucked away from city traffic in an alleyway lined with hotels, massage parlors, and office buildings. Customers have a choice of high stools at the wooden, L-shaped bar or leather sofas. However, there is no booze on the shelves. Instead of the usual bottles and glasses, there are bongs, rolling papers, grinders, and dramatic illuminated jars of cannabis flowers, including the most popular strain in the store, Amnesia Haze and Critical Purple Cush.

One of the most upscale venues to smoke marijuana in Bangkok is All The Smoke Lounge.

Thailand decriminalized cannabis on June 9, 2022, making it the first nation in Asia to do so, and thousands of marijuana companies have since popped up in the country. Entrepreneurs like Rithichai “Mai” Chaisingharn, proprietor of All The Smoke, have drastically altered the kingdom’s physical landscape in that brief period.

According to Chaisingharn, 39, a lifelong cannabis user who had fantasized about starting a store similar to a cigar store, “weed went from being something as sinister as heroin to as innocent as a tomato overnight.”

Bangkok now has upscale pubs and dinner cruises, and beaches with many of tourists may be found with wooden shacks and seaside loungers. They’ve multiplied to the point where “it’s like Starbucks,” claimed Vanessa Dora Lavorato, 36, an edible creator and TV show who visited Thailand in January. “A marijuana shop is on every corner.”

Anantara resorts offer 90-minute massages with a cannabis theme that include a soak in an infused bath as well as half-day tours of marijuana farms. Budler, a new cannabis tour company in Bangkok that takes customers to eateries, cultural attractions, and dispensaries, is getting off the ground.

It differs greatly from the nation’s previous position on marijuana and from how the drug is regarded in the rest of the region.

The first Lonely Planet guidebook for Thailand was written by Bangkok-based author Joe Cummings, who noted that Southeast Asia as a whole “has always been really very strict [on drugs]”.

reducing the ‘war on drugs’

Before Thailand made cannabis illegal in 1935, it was frequently used in food and medicinal. Even after the nation’s narcotics laws were strengthened in 1979, according to Cummings, there was a laissez-faire attitude toward cannabis when he lived in the nation in the 1970s and 1980s.

It was typical to see it in small eateries, particularly boat noodle joints, he noted. And if you went down to a wharf or other type of pier, the fisherman would be smoking in plain view.

With time, the government became more serious about its “war on drugs,” burning marijuana valued at millions of dollars on the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Although weed wasn’t as publicly accessible, it was still simple to find in red-light or backpacker hotspots. It was customary to make arrests for recreational usage, which might result in fines.

However, according to Cummings, possession penalties were not as harsh as in nearby nations like Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Myanmar.

Today’s laws are even more lax. Additionally, more than 4,200 inmates who were detained for alleged marijuana crimes became eligible for release after the government removed the plant from its list of prohibited substances.

Reach of marijuana

On her most recent visit, Marissa Caluzzi discovered the same familiar golden sand, street food stalls, and whistling pine trees at peaceful Naiyang Beach, which is less than two miles from Phuket International Airport. However, there was a foul odor in the air.

Caluzzi, 56, an Australian visitor to Naiyang Beach for years, stated, “You can smell it.” People “just come out on the beach and smoke while sitting on their balconies.”

It is officially unlawful to smoke in public and is subject to a $780 fine for public annoyance or a possible three-month term. Thailand’s Department of Health issued a warning in April that the law will be strictly enforced.

In Thailand, cannabis products containing more than 0.2 percent THC are prohibited. (Most states in the US that have legalized cannabis don’t have a potency limit.) In any case, as long as you’re over 20 and not expecting or nursing a baby, you can legally purchase and consume marijuana. Even on domestic flights, marijuana use is permitted on board.

“I think it is good for tourism,” said Prawit “Wit” Chankasem, 39, a 13-year Bangkok tour guide. Not only at tourist hotspots and major cities, but also in local neighborhoods where foreigners or tourists are seldom. Chankasem recalled, “I visited some little communities in Thailand and was like, “Wow, you have cannabis shops here.”

Chankasem, like some Thais, is concerned that the drug’s widespread accessibility may endanger young people. With the argument that recreational usage is harmful to the nation, this worry lies at the heart of recent initiatives to categorize the plant as a narcotic.

All The Smoke’s Chaisingharn described his detractors as believing that he is selling something that is destroying society.

A chance for agriculture

Cannabis is in such great demand across the nation, according to Cummings, that “even with hundreds of thousands of acres devoted to cultivation, right now there’s still a shortage.” Seven additional marijuana stores have popped up close by in the six months since All The Smoke debuted, according to Chaisingharn.

People like Cha “Ice” Na, 33, a new cannabis farmer in Rayong, an eastern province on the Gulf of Thailand, will find that to be good news. Prior to the epidemic, Na used medical marijuana to relieve the pain from a motorcycle accident. (Medical marijuana is now legal in Thailand as of 2018).

After Na had healed from his awful injuries, he became so passionate about marijuana’s ability to heal that he began cultivating his own plants. He now has three sizable rooms and an outdoor farm where he cultivates Wild Thai, a sativa variety of cannabis that is unusual. He travels to Phuket each month to give it to Skushi, a brand-new tourist-oriented store in Old Town.

Na claims that although growing marijuana won’t make him wealthy, it will be enough to support him, his wife “Apple,” and their child. This is especially true given the industry’s challenges with illicit imports. Additionally, he believes that it will encourage tourists to return.

People travel to Thailand, he added, “to relax, eat delicious food, and take in the stunning scenery.” Cannabis improves the environment. “They’ll return,”

There is much to try.

Lavorato experienced this when she traveled to Thailand to visit her uncle and film movies for her website, the Edibles Club. “I would go back tomorrow,” remarked Lavorato after traveling by car from Bangkok to Hat Yai and visiting the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Tao, and Ko Pha Ngan.

While cannabis wasn’t the reason Caluzzi went on vacation, she did sample it a few times and said it “added an element of fun” after she got there. She and her partner, Chris Wessels, 62, chose to try Thailand’s legal marijuana because it was not permitted for recreational use in their own Australia. They had roughly six different vendors to chose from in tiny Naiyang Beach, and after deciding on one and speaking with a worker, they purchased a cannabis cookie to enjoy at their hotel.

Oh, it was revolting, Caluzzi remarked. Actually, all that did was make us a little giddy, but not much.

They tried a half-inch marijuana brownie next, which “kicked us out,” and then some gummy bears. Additionally, they claimed that while the hazelnut and vanilla ice cream “tasted nice,” the “high” was “very minor.”

According to Chaisingharn, his clientele at All The Smoke is split equally between locals and regulars and walk-ins and tourists, including those from nations where marijuana is outlawed who specifically came for the pot.

A mother and daughter from Taiwan, an Omani hospital director, scientists, and fraternity brothers have all been present. Many are complete novices. Some people “really know their weed,” according to Chaisingharn.

He draws comparisons between Bangkok and Amsterdam, two popular tourist destinations with decriminalized marijuana and well-known red-light districts, but he doesn’t think they are entirely realistic.

He remarked, “We don’t even regulate marijuana like Amsterdam. It gets crazier still.

How to safely experiment

Make a plan for your day, including where to go, what to eat, and how to get home, advises Lavorato for travelers looking to try marijuana in Thailand.

She said, “You want to be in a safe, comfortable environment with food around.

Before you get high, download a transportation app like Grab and enter your payment information if you think you’ll require a ride. Think about doing things like getting a massage, visiting popular attractions or works of art, and “definitely hit the night markets,” she advised. Try swimming or snorkeling if you’re at the beach.

Likewise, take into account regional customs. According to Berga Huang, the originator of Budler, “Thailand is a very religious country.” Therefore, be careful not to bring any cannabis to temples or other places of worship.

And even though you may encounter people smoking in public, keep your use to yourself to reduce the chance of police interference. Like cigarettes, it’s more of a courtesy, according to Chaisingharn.

Find a store or bar that appeals to you and consult with a member of the staff for advice on what to smoke, eat, or drink. Pre-rolled joints are widely available and simple for beginners. Do not be afraid to ask questions.

The majority of people are unaware of cannabis when they first wish to try it, according to Huang. Many visitors from Asian nations where marijuana is strictly prohibited are unsure of where to begin.

The THC content of cannabis products in Thailand is only permitted to be less than 0.2 percent, although Lavorato claimed to have come across significantly stronger edibles while visiting.

She referred to low-dose promises as “I’m telling you that’s not what is being sold right now.”

You don’t have to completely avoid edibles, but you might want to follow Lavorato’s cautious advice. Eat a small amount, wait an hour, and depending on how you feel, eat more. If you do get into too much trouble, Lavorato advises, “coffee and food — that is the best thing you can do.”

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2023/06/08/thailand-legal-weed-shops-tourists/

Enrico Bratta

Enrico Bratta

Medical cannabis professional based in Phuket, Thailand.


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Enrico Bratta

Medical cannabis professional based in Phuket, Thailand.