Reuters reports this week that “several” such cannabis cafes have opened in the capital city of Bangkok since Thailand decriminalized pot in June, becoming the first country in Asia to do so.
When the government removed cannabis from its list of banned substances earlier this summer, officials were adamant that they were not legalizing recreational pot use.
“It’s a no,” Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told CNN when asked if recreational use would be permitted. “We still have regulations under the law that control the consumption, smoking or use of cannabis products in non-productive ways.”
But that isn’t exactly how it has played out.
The new law “has led to an explosion in its recreational use,” according to Reuters, “something that government officials – concerned about negative effects on health and productivity often linked to uncontrolled use of the drug – have retro[s]pectively tried to discourage.”
“The law does not cover recreational cannabis use… and so tourism promotion is focused on medical (aspects),” the national tourism authority’s Deputy Governor, Siripakorn Cheawsamoot, said, as quoted by Reuters.
According to Reuters, a “parliamentary committee is now debating a bill to regulate cannabis use that is expected to finalise in September and could impact the cannabis cafes.”
The “pushback against the way the new policy is being interpreted has caused some confusion, with authorities resorting to issuing piecemeal regulations such banning public smoking of cannabis and its sale to under 20s,” Reuters reported.
CNN reported in June that the new law meant that it “is no longer a crime to grow and trade marijuana and hemp products, or use parts of the plant to treat illnesses,” and that “cafes and restaurants can also serve cannabis-infused food and drinks — but only if the products contain less than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s main psychoactive compound.”
“We [have always] emphasized using cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical purposes and for health,” Charnvirakul told CNN at the time. “There has never once been a moment that we would think about advocating people to use cannabis in terms of recreation — or use it in a way that it could irritate others.”
“Thailand will promote cannabis policies for medical purposes. If [tourists] come for medical treatment or come for health-related products then it’s not an issue but if you think that you want to come to Thailand just because you heard that cannabis or marijuana is legal … [or] come to Thailand to smoke joints freely, that’s wrong,” he added. “Don’t come. We won’t welcome you if you just come to this country for that purpose.”
Tourists have not heeded his warning, however.
Reuters this week spotlighted one such cafe called RG420, located in “Khao San, an area of Bangkok popular with backpackers.”
RG420’s owner Ong-ard Panyachatiraksa told Reuters that his cafe has had “hundreds” of visitors every day.
“Europeans, Japanese, Americans – they are looking for Thai sativa,” Ong-ard said. “Cannabis and tourism are a match.”
The new marijuana law has been fraught with controversy since it was enacted earlier this summer. Last month, more than 850 doctors in Thailand came together to speak out against cannabis decriminalization, warning that it posed dangers to young people.
“Cannabis was removed from the Public Health Ministry’s Narcotic list on June 9, but no policies have been launched to control the use of cannabis for personal pleasure,” a spokesperson for the group of physicians said. “This lack of [legal] direction makes cannabis more accessible for children and teenagers.”