A Forbidden Leaf Attracts Asian Tourists Amid Strict Regional Laws

As the cloud of cannabis smoke unfurls in a central Bangkok weed shop, a 42-year-old Japanese tourist delicately places his joint back on the table, succumbing to a bout of coughing. Until just two weeks ago, he’d never tried marijuana. Given Asia’s stringent drug laws, his fascination with the forbidden leaf is shared by many.

His curiosity was stirred by Thailand’s groundbreaking move last year towards the de facto legalization of marijuana – a bold deviation from the rigid drug policies of its Asian neighbors, some of which still impose the death penalty for cannabis-related offenses. Intrigued by what he’d been missing, he wondered, “Why does Japan ban it? I wanted to try it.”

Asia’s conventional stance on marijuana remains steadfast, with Thailand standing as a unique exception. Countries like Singapore have already executed two people this year for marijuana trafficking, while Japan has warned its nationals that their laws on cannabis use may apply even when they’re overseas. China’s embassy in Thailand has also cautioned its citizens that consumption of marijuana abroad is tantamount to using drugs domestically, and may warrant legal repercussions.

However, for the adventurous or simply the curious, these warnings do little to dissuade their desire to explore. Bangkok’s weed dispensaries are seeing a surge in tourists, especially from Asian countries such as Singapore, China, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Dispensaries are filled with cautious consumers, many asking about the duration of the drug’s detectability in their system or inquiring about detox products.

Thailand’s cannabis industry has witnessed explosive growth. The once forbidden leaf is now becoming a common sight, with dispensaries sprouting across the capital. Since the legalization, Thailand has approved nearly 6,000 licenses for cannabis-related businesses. While official figures on marijuana tourists are lacking, estimates suggest that a significant majority of cannabis customers are foreigners.

Thailand’s approach to cannabis is creating a new kind of tourism, attracting first-time users keen on experimenting. Kueakarun Thongwilai, the manager of a weed shop in central Bangkok, estimated that 70%-80% of his customers are foreigners, most of them new to cannabis.

Despite strict policies back home, many tourists are not new to cannabis and visit Thai dispensaries in search of better quality product. Anecdotal evidence from various dispensaries and lounges suggest that the Thai product is gaining a reputation for superiority in quality.

However, the use of marijuana, especially for first-time users, does not come without challenges. Edible cannabis products are often seen as an attractive option for beginners. Still, dispensaries typically steer these customers towards smoking, as edibles can lead to an excessive experience due to their delayed onset of effect.

With Thailand’s move towards marijuana legalization, the country has entered a complex and uncharted territory. However, one thing is clear: it’s not just the curious tourists who are lighting up. The legalization has ignited a budding industry and a new form of tourism that’s set to grow. However, amidst this booming business, the tourists must tread lightly, given the stringent policies that await them at home.

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