Thailand aims for high season with U-turn on cannabis

<span>Photo: Narong Sangnak/EPA</span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ -~B/aD02MDA7dz0xMDAwO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u/″ data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng –/–~B/aD02MDA7dz0xMDAwO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u/″/></div>
<p><figcaption class=Photo: Narong Sangnak/EPA

A distinctively sweet smell wafts through the night market at Fisherman’s Village on the Thai island of Koh Samui, drifting up between sticky mango rice stalls and cocktail buckets. Cannabis stall Samui Grower is doing business tonight. A table is covered with glass jars, each displaying a different blooming green bud, with labels saying things like ”Road Dawg’ hybrid THC25% 850TBH/gram”.

Elsewhere on the island, at Chi beach club, tourists lie on sofas puffing pre-rolled joints and munching on pizza topped with green cannabis leaves. On Instagram, Green Shop Samui offers a marijuana menu with wonderfully named buds: Truffle Cream, Banana Kush and Sour Diesel, along with hemp biscuits and cannabis herbal soap.

Anyone familiar with Thailand’s notoriously harsh stance on recreational drug use may see this and wonder if they’ve had too much to smoke. A country where drug offenses have attracted the death penalty and being caught with a joint at a full-moon party has brought tourists to the infamous Bangkok Hilton now appears to have made a U-turn. In an apparent bid to attract tourists in the post-Covid downturn, the Thai government decriminalized cannabis last month. Koh Samui’s streets are already dotted with dispensaries with names like Mr Cannabis, and tourists tell of being openly offered marijuana at hotel reception. Still, the laws surrounding cannabis are far more unclear than this “pot paradise” suggests.

Koh Samui’s streets are already dotted with dispensaries with names like Mr Cannabis

On June 9, the Thai government removed cannabis and hemp plants from the list of banned narcotics, freeing people in Thailand to grow and sell it. However, the government’s line is that production and consumption is only allowed for medical, not recreational, use, and only of low-potency marijuana, which contains less than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the main hallucinogenic compound. Recreational use of cannabis is discouraged, with officials who warns that anyone caught smoking cannabis in public could be charged with creating a public “odor nuisance” under the Public Health Act and face a 25,000 baht (£580) fine and three months in jail.But on the beaches of Koh Samui law seems more open to interpretation.

A marijuana menu at a cannabis dispensary

A marijuana menu at a cannabis dispensary. Photo: Matt Hunt/Rex

In Chi, a luxury beach club on Samui Bang Rak that serves magnums of Bollinger and fine French wines, owner Carl Lamb not only offers a CBD-infused menu, but also openly sells high-potency cannabis by the gram and pre-rolled joints.

Lam, who originally tried medical marijuana for his own digestive problems, worked with a university in Chiang Mai to grow medicinal cannabis for the CBD-infused menu Chi serves: CBD berry lemonade, Hempus Maxiumus cocktails and CBD Pad Kra Pow. When the drug was decriminalized, Lamb took it as permission to start selling “real” joints in his bar.

“At first I just did it as a buzz and had a few grams in the box,” he grins, producing a large black cigar box filled with different strains of cannabis – ranging from 500 baht (£12.50) per gram for BlueBerry Haze to 1,000 baht (£23) a gram for Lemonade.

Now Chi sells 100g a day. “We get people buying it from 10 a.m. until we close,” says Lamb. “It’s really been an eye-opening spectrum of people wanting to try it.” He caters to parents who are curious to take a puff while the kids play in the pool, wealthy individuals who want pre-rolled joints to take with them, and tourists who buy it straight off the plane. As Lamb understands it, the law only prohibits him from selling to under-25s or pregnant women “and if someone complains about the smell, I have to close it”.

“We’ve started getting phone calls from all over the world asking, ‘Is it really true that you can smoke cannabis in Thailand and it’s legal?’ We already know that it attracts more tourists – people book for Christmas.”

The impact of Covid on the island has been “devastating”, says Lamb. “The decriminalization of cannabis has, without a shadow of a doubt, a hugely positive impact. You can now come here and lie on a beach in Asia at Christmas and smoke weed. Who doesn’t come?”

We already know that it attracts more tourists – people book for Christmas

Carl Lamb, Chi beach club

The Thai man who runs the Samui Grower cannabis stall at the market is equally enthusiastic. “Very good for tourists,” he says, when I ask him how trade is. “Very good. Thai people like it. We make money.” Is it legal? I ask. “Yes, yes,” he nods. Can I buy it and smoke it on the beach? “Yes good.”

In contrast, the Green Shop in Samui, which opens next week, says it will warn customers so they know not to smoke in public. No wonder tourists are confused.

Thailand celebrates the legalization of marijuana in June

Thailand celebrates the legalization of marijuana in June. Photo: Andre Malerba/Rex

I find Morris, a 45-year-old Irish father, buying cannabis at the market. “I didn’t realize it was so legal now,” he says. Does he know the law? “I know I can’t get arrested for it, but I haven’t looked into it that much,” he admits. “I don’t want to smoke on the beach if there are other families around, but me and my wife can smoke it back at the hotel.”

Other tourists are more relaxed. Nina tells me at her hotel in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, that cannabis is sold at reception. “I smoke it anyway,” she shrugs. “I wouldn’t really notice if it was legal or not.”

“No one understands the law now. It’s a big mess – even the police don’t understand it, a cannabis seller, who asked to remain anonymous, told me. Operating under the radar, supplying cannabis to ‘farang’ tourists, with hotel concierges organizing deliveries, he says: ‘I’m taking care at the moment, because the law is not clear. The [tourists] don’t know anything about the laws. They don’t know they can’t smoke in public. Although it is very dangerous to smoke in public”.

The [tourists] don’t know anything about the laws. They don’t know they can’t smoke in public

Cannabis seller, Koh Samui

At Chi, 75-year-old American Linda, who openly smokes a joint, feels relaxed about the vagaries of the law. “I’m not worried about the gray area in Thailand. Just be respectful when you smoke, she says. She feels that sharing a joint at Chi “has a kind of boutique feel, like buying a fine wine for your friends”.

The real question now is what happens next. Can a country that once had some of the strictest drug laws in the world really adapt to some of the most relaxed?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *