Cannabis cafes, the latest addition to Thailand’s tourist offer

Cannabis cafe RG420 opened just four days ago in Khao San, a popular backpacker district of Bangkok – and it’s already teeming with customers.

Several points of sale of this type have sprung up in the capital since Thailand has decriminalized the plant in June, a few weeks before removing COVID-related controls on foreign visitors.

Foreign arrivals fell to 2 million in the first half of 2022 from nearly 40 million in 2019, and RG420 owner Ongard Panyachatiraksa and others like him see their cafes as vital to efforts to revive a tourism industry which contributed about 12% to GDP before the pandemic. struck.

He said hundreds of people visit the cafe every day and he plans to open more.

“Europeans, Japanese, Americans – they are looking for Thai sativa,” Ong-ard told Reuters, referring to a cannabis strain. “Cannabis and tourism go hand in hand.”

Not everyone agrees.

In 2018, Thailand became the first Southeast Asian country to legalize medical marijuana. In June, the entire cannabis plant was decriminalised.

This led to an explosion in its recreational use, which government officials – concerned about the negative health and productivity effects often associated with uncontrolled drug use – have retrospectively tried to discourage.

“The law does not cover the recreational use of cannabis … and tourism promotion therefore focuses on the medical (aspects) of it,” said the deputy governor of the national tourism authority, Siripakorn Cheawsamoot.

Rejection of how the new policy is being interpreted has caused confusion, with authorities resorting to piecemeal regulations such as banning smoking cannabis in public and selling it to those under 20.

A parliamentary committee is currently debating a bill to regulate cannabis consumption which is due to be finalized in September and could have an impact on cannabis cafes.

Akira Wongwan, a medical cannabis entrepreneur and one of the committee’s advisers, said she expected recreational use to be subject to zoning laws.

Meanwhile, in the crowded smoking room of RG420 – a reference to Rag Gan, a Thai expression meaning “to love each other” – Briton Malik Khan has just finished rolling a joint.

“This country is beautiful, and there’s so much to do here too,” said the 26-year-old. “It (cannabis) really adds to the scene.”