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Behind the scenes in Thailand’s booming weed business

BANGKOK — Tucked away from city traffic in an alley full of massage parlors, office buildings and hotels, the place looks like it could be a cocktail bar. Customers can sit in leather armchairs or claim a high stool at the wooden L-shaped bar. The shelves, though, are absent of alcohol. In lieu of the typical bottles and glassware, there are bongs, rolling papers, grinders and dramatically lit jars of cannabis flowers such as Critical Purple Kush and Amnesia Haze, the most popular strain in the shop.

All the Smoke Lounge is one of the classier places to get high in Bangkok.

Thousands of weed businesses have opened in Thailand since the country removed the plant from its list of banned narcotics on June 9, 2022, becoming the first country in Asia to decriminalize cannabis. In that short time, entrepreneurs such as All the Smoke owner Rithichai “Mai” Chaisingharn have changed the physical landscape of the kingdom exponentially.

“Weed went from being something as sinister as heroin to as innocent as a tomato overnight,” said Chaisingharn, 39, a lifelong cannabis smoker who had fantasized about opening a shop akin to a cigar store. Now there are swanky bars and dinner cruises in Bangkok, and you can find wooden shacks and beachside lounges on tourist-filled beaches. They’ve become so prolific that “it’s like Starbucks,” said Vanessa Dora Lavorato, 36, an edible maker and TV host who visited Thailand in January. “There’s a pot shop on every corner.”

Travelers can get a 90-minute cannabis-themed massage treatment, complete with a soak in an infused bath, at Anantara resorts, or book half-day tours of cannabis farms. In Bangkok, the cannabis tour company Budler (pronounced like “butler) is getting off the ground, taking customers to dispensaries, cultural sites and places to eat.

It’s a far cry from the country’s previous stance on weed, and where the drug stands in the rest of the region.

“Southeast Asia in general has always been really very strict [on drugs],” said Bangkok-based author Joe Cummings, who wrote the first Lonely Planet guidebook for Thailand.