Cannabis cafes are the latest addition to Thailand’s tourism offering

RG420 cannabis opened just four days ago in Khao San, an area of ​​Bangkok popular with backpackers – and it’s already packed with customers.

Many of these outlets have mushroomed across the capital since Thailand decriminalized the plant in June, just weeks before it dropped COVID-related controls on foreign visitors.

Foreign arrivals shrank 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 key to efforts to revive a tourism industry that contributed about 12% to pre-pandemic GDP. hit.

He said hundreds visit the café every day, and he plans to open others.

“Europeans, Japanese, Americans… are looking for a Thai sativa,” Ong-ard told Reuters, referring to the cannabis strain. “Cannabis and tourism match.”

Not everyone agrees.

In 2018, Thailand became the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize marijuana for medical use. In June, the entire cannabis plant was decriminalized.

This has led to an explosion in its recreational use, which government officials—worried about the negative health and productivity effects often associated with uncontrolled use of the drug—have tried to discourage it retroactively.

“The law does not cover the use of cannabis for recreational purposes…therefore, tourism promotion focuses on medical (aspects)” said Deputy Governor of the National Tourism Authority, Siripakorn Chausamut.

Opposition to the way the new policy is being interpreted has caused some confusion, with authorities resorting to partial regulations such as banning the public smoking of cannabis and its sale to those under twenty.

A parliamentary committee is now discussing a bill to regulate cannabis use that is expected to be completed in September and could affect cannabis cafes.

Akira Wongwan, a medical cannabis entrepreneur and one of the committee’s advisors, said she expects recreational use to be governed by zoning laws.

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

“This country is beautiful, and there is a lot to do here too,” said the 26-year-old. “It (the hemp) really adds to the scene nicely.”

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