A man looks at a dried cannabis flower for sale at the Highlands cafe in Bangkok on June 9, 2022. Photo: Manan VATSYAYANA / AFP
Joyous scenes were seen at weed cafes and shops in Bangkok today as growing cannabis was officially legalized, marking Thailand’s transformation into the region’s most progressive country on the drug as the government attempts to spark a green rush and capitalize on the industry.
People in Thailand are now free to grow unlimited amounts of cannabis, as a law ratified in February came into effect on June 9. The plant has officially been removed from the country’s narcotics list, although smoking weed in public is still an offense.
Highland Cafe, which previously sold cannabis-themed merchandise and food items, began selling cannabis flowers at their shop for the first time today. Even before opening, customers were waiting outside the store to get their hands on some of the country’s first legally purchasable buds.
As dozens of reporters stood on standby at the crowded cafe in Bangkok, cheers erupted as the first customer received a bag of cannabis buds. Outside, more were standing in a neat line, patiently waiting their turn.
“I’m very excited because before this, weed use in Thailand wasn’t legal. We just hid from the police, but now we are free,” Thanawat Wongprommek, a customer who emerged from the shop with three different strains of weed, told VICE World News.
While younger patrons bask in the novelty of shopping for legal cannabis, the day was a momentous and emotional one for longtime cannabis activists who have been pushing for legalization for decades.
“We’ve been waiting for 43 years, since 1979,” Chaiwat Banjai, one of the owners of Highland Cafe, told VICE World News. It was that year that Thailand enacted the Narcotics Act, which outlawed cannabis and its derivatives. “Now, weed is legal. Weed is finally legal.”
“We never thought we’d come so far like this,” said Chaiwat, his eyes filling with tears.
Cannabis use for medicinal purposes was first legalized in Thailand in 2019. Since then, parts of the plant have been gradually removed from the country’s narcotics list, before a regulation was issued in February stating all parts of the plant would be legalized come June 9. Last month, the Thai government even committed to handing out 1 million free cannabis plants to citizens.
While other cannabis shops visited by VICE World News—which weren’t yet selling cannabis flowers—were quieter than Highland Cafe on Thursday morning, staff members all expressed similar excitement over the legalization.
“I feel so good, I’m so excited. We are proud to represent Thai cannabis to many people,” said Mananad Yodvanich, who was manning Chopaka, a shop that currently sells terpene gummies. It will also start selling cannabis flowers in two days.
Thailand also released over 3,000 people today detained in its prisons for cannabis-related offenses. Some 1,000 will have their sentences amended, while charges against those currently awaiting trial will also be dropped.
But amid the celebratory atmosphere, some ambiguity remains over cannabis’ legal status in Thailand. Thai authorities, attempting a balancing act between profiting off the plant while discouraging its recreational use, have emphasized that cannabis should only be used for medicinal purposes. The government has also warned that smoking in public could constitute a public nuisance offense carrying up to three months in prison.
Crucially, cannabis extracts containing more than 0.2 percent THC—the main psychoactive element in cannabis that elicits the “high”—remain outlawed. So while anyone is free to own and cultivate as many cannabis plants as they like—and encouraged to register their crops on the government’s Plookganja app—consuming what they produce remains technically illegal. Lawmakers are still in the midst of deliberating a bill regulating the sale and consumption of cannabis, though it’s unclear under what circumstances this will permit people to consume the cannabis they produce.
Despite the legal ambiguity surrounding cannabis use, businesses around Thailand are willing to navigate these sometimes confusing government regulations in order to claim their stake in the nascent industry.
WholeWeed House, a Bangkok cafe that currently sells CBD-infused beverages and jellies, told VICE World News that it’s prepped to take advantage of the country’s changing cannabis landscape.
“We want to be a part of the cannabis scene,” said owner Pongspat Sukhumalchandr. “We’re not in this just for a fad… We want to be the very first few to explore.”
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