Pioneering trailways, Thailand’s unprecedented decision to effectively legalize marijuana last year has led to a noticeable influx of tourists, especially from fellow Asian nations with strict drug laws and crushing penalties. A recent case in point is a curious visitor from Japan, who was enticed by the charm of the once strictly forbidden herb.

The Japanese tourist excitedly produces a gram-sized baggie of his newly-purchased cannabis from a central outlet in Bangkok, eagerly dismantling the buds using a compact grinder. He then skillfully rolls these fine particles into a snug cigarette. At first sight, the only apparent hints to his novice status are a mild sprinkle of the herb on the lounge table and his subsequent cough as he takes his first hearty drag, having only first sampled cannabis a fortnight ago.

Thailand’s unique position as a legal marijuana paradise, amidst several Asian nations clinging on to rigid drug laws — some even threatening capital punishment for cannabis offenses— has stoked tourism interest. The 42-year-old Japanese wanderer stated his desire for exploration, wondering aloud, “Why does Japan prohibit marijuana? I wanted to have the experience.”

While the global canvas on marijuana is rapidly shifting towards full-scale legalization, Asia remains a challenging front with ultra-strict anti-drug enforcement mechanisms. Singapore, known for its harsh opiate trafficking penalties, including death, has already seen two executions this year. Recently, the city-state’s Central Narcotics Bureau has voiced plans to randomly test travelers returning from Thailand.

Countries like Japan, although less severe with penalties compared to Singapore, caution citizens that its national anti-cannabis laws apply even when overseas. Chinese tourists face similar warnings; the use of cannabis abroad, if detected on their return, is considered tantamount to domestic drug use, attracting serious legal repercussions.

Regardless, the fascination cigarettes made with the green leaf has blossomed alongside Thailand’s booming cannabis industry. The number of authorized cannabis-related businesses is rapidly increasing, now almost rivaling local convenience stores in Bangkok. Kueakarun Thongwilai, managing an outlet in the heart of the city, estimates that about 70% to 80% of his patrons hail from outside Thailand’s borders, namely Asian countries like Japan, Malaysia, China, and the Philippines, as well as a proportion of European visitors.

A fair portion of Thongwilai’s customers are trying cannabis for the first time, predominantly Asians. Although edibles are highly sought after, Thongwilai guides these newcomers towards smoking, citing the delayed effect of edibles which could lead novices to consume more, eventually culminating in an overwhelming maiden experience.

Thongwilai’s store, Dutch Passion, an extension of a Netherlands seed provider in business for over three decades, sees a similar trend in beginner users. Drawing from his experience in the Netherlands, a cannabis-friendly nation since the 1970s, the Dutch proprietor Theo Geene, enlightens his newbie customers not to opt for a bong, as it’s known to be intense for first-timers.

The swift growth of the cannabis industry in Thailand is also nurturing a breed of tourists keen on comparing and understanding the different strains and marijuana experiences. As per the 42-year-old Japanese tourist, his trip involved daily visits to various outlets where he carefully observed prices and sampled varieties. He has also learned the art of grinding and rolling joints, showing an adoration for perfecting the skill while laughing at his diligence.

The mutual respect for the freedom offered by the Thai government and the personal pursuit of new experiences underpins this new breed of cannabis tourism. Despite varying countries threatening legal consequences, these explorers are choosing to embrace the personal journey, one joint at a time. The allure of the Cannabis experience, it appears, is far too appealing.

As a disclaimer, the opinions expressed in this article don’t reflect those of High Thailand.

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