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

Several cannabis outlets have sprung up across Bangkok since Thailand decriminalized the plant in June, a few weeks before it dropped COVID-linked controls on foreign visitors.

Foreign arrivals shrank to 2 million in the first half of 2022 from nearly 40 million in 2019, and cafe owners view their cafes as central to efforts to revive a tourism industry that contributed about 12% to GDP before the pandemic struck.

“Europeans, Japanese, Americans — they are looking for Thai sativa,” Ong-ard said, referring to a cannabis strain. “Cannabis and tourism are a match.”

Not everyone agrees.

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

That has led to an explosion in its recreational use, something that government officials have retropectively 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.

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.

A parliamentary committee is now debating a bill to regulate cannabis use that is expected to finalize in September and could impact the cannabis cafes.