Cannabis cafe RG420 opened just four days ago in Khao San, an area of Bangkok popular with backpackers – and it’s already packed with customers.
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 central to efforts to revive a tourism industry that contributed about 12% in GDP before the pandemic. hit.
He said hundreds visited 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 type of cannabis. “Cannabis and tourism are a match”.
Not everyone agrees.
In 2018, Thailand became the first Southeast Asian country to legalize marijuana for medical use. In June, the entire cannabis plant was decriminalized.
This has led to an explosion in its recreational use, something that government officials – concerned about the negative effects on health and productivity often associated with uncontrolled drug use – have tried to retroactively discourage.
“The law does not cover the recreational use of cannabis… and so tourism promotion is focused on medical (aspects),” said the deputy governor of the national tourism authority, Siripakorn Cheawsamoot.
Opposition to how the new policy is being interpreted has caused some confusion, with authorities using partial regulations, such as banning the public smoking of cannabis and its sale to under-20s.
A parliamentary committee is now debating a bill to regulate the use of cannabis that is expected to be finalized in September and could affect 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 smoke-filled room at RG420 – a reference to Rag Gan, a Thai expression meaning “love each other” – Britain’s Malik Khan has just finished rolling a joint.
“This place is beautiful and there is a lot to do here too,” said the 26-year-old. “It (cannabis) adds to the scene very nicely.”