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High season: Bangkok's new cannabis shops could jumpstart tourism this summer

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A customer smokes a joint in a new Bangkok cannabis smoking room
A customer smokes a joint in a new Bangkok cannabis smoking room   -   Copyright  Reuters
By Hannah Brown  & Maxime Caron  with Reuters

In June 2022 Thailand decriminalised cannabis. This new policy was intended for medical purposes and not for people to get high, the country’s tourism authority told Reuters.

However, many business owners hope the move may help boost Thailand’s tourism industry as it struggles to recover following the pandemic.

In 2019 the country welcomed 39.9 million visitors, generating 1.91 trillion baht (€51.52 billion) or about 12 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

In the first six months of 2022 however, Thailand saw just 2 million tourist arrivals.

Can you buy cannabis in Thailand?

Since the new law was passed in June, cannabis shops have sprung up around Bangkok.

Ong-ard Panyachatiraksa and Netnapa Singsatit run a store named RG420 in the city’s backpacker district, Khao San. It has been billed as the first shop to also feature a room for recreational smoking.

After less than a week of business Ong-ard said RG420 was seeing hundreds of customers walk through the doors everyday.

Pre-pandemic Amsterdam with its coffee shops and red light district, attracted an estimated 1 million visitors per month.

Ong-ard hopes this will be the case for Thailand too as he says “cannabis and tourism are a match.”

Though most of RG420’s customers didn’t book their holiday because of the cannabis laws, many of them agreed it had added an extra dimension of enjoyment to their holiday.

"It’s been a pleasant surprise because I came to Thailand and I didn't expect it,” says British tourist Malik Khan.

“Everybody travels to Amsterdam to smoke, so I think it will attract a lot of people. The country is beautiful, and there's so much here to do as well, so I think it will definitely add to things for sure.”

RG420 offers its clients drinks, air conditioning and a variety of smoking options. On the door there’s also a sign which reads: A portion of the revenue will be donated to the ministry of health to care for those affected by cannabis in Thailand.

Is cannabis legal in Thailand?

When most of us think of drugs and Thailand we think of the horror stories we’ve all read in the news of tourists being locked up in prison.

Despite being a fairly conservative country, Thailand first started easing cannabis laws when they legalised medical marijuana in 2018.

It is important to note that cannabis strains containing more than 0.2% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are still illegal. THC is the compound found in cannabis that gives users a ‘high’.

However, despite being a favourite with tourists, Lawmakers are still deliberating a cannabis bill that would fully govern its use.

In the interim, authorities have resorted to new regulations that limit personal use, like barring smoking in public - which is why Ong-ard and Netnapa have opened up their smoking room.

The bill, which is expected to be finalised in September, could tighten regulation for cannabis shops.

Ong-ard said he would comply with the new law, but he hopes Thailand's newfound cannabis tourism economy can grow.

Watch the video above to learn more about cannabis in Thailand.