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Travel Alert: Will Thailand Replace Amsterdam as the Cannabis Capital?

October 12, 2022 08:00 am ET
Travel Alert: Will Thailand Replace Amsterdam as the Cannabis Capital?

Amsterdam has become legendary for its cannabis industry, which attracted thousands upon thousands of tourists from all over the world. However, this cannabis capital decided to ban the sale of cannabis products and services to tourists on account of the disruption that tourists cause. Can Amsterdam still be considered the cannabis capital, especially when the authorities are still pushing “to block visitors from buying marijuana from coffee shops?” Fortunately for cannabis connoisseurs, Thailand is ready and waiting to replace Amsterdam as the cannabis capital of the world.

Amsterdam vs. Thailand

When people decide to go to Amsterdam for cannabis, they are not just going for the sake of being able to purchase cannabis from a coffee shop. They are going for the vibe, the beauty of the city, the culture, the activities, and so much more. But what happens when another country that is just as beautiful, has just as much culture, and is equally vibrant decides to take advantage of the fact that cannabis cafés attract tourists? It might mean the end of Amsterdam’s legendary red light district, which was made famous largely due to cannabis.

Both the Netherlands and Thailand have red light districts, or areas commonly frequented by adults in search of various, and sometimes illicit, pleasures. Typically, red light districts involve prostitution and other sex-oriented business alongside thriving drug markets. In the Netherlands, Amsterdam, Haarlem, and Eindhoven are considered to be red light districts, while Thailand has Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy, and Patpong, all of which are located in Bangkok.

Amsterdam Regression, Thailand Progression

Amsterdam and Thailand have both become notorious for the R-rated fun one can have, but the biggest difference between the two stems from the fact that Amsterdam has been allowing tourists to consume cannabis in its cafés since the 1970s and is now restricting that type of business. On the other hand, Thailand only began to legalize cannabis four years ago, beginning with medical cannabis, and it is now the first Asian country with fully legalized cannabis and a rapidly expanding canna-tourism industry.

Thailand as Amsterdam’s Successor

While Amsterdam will always be remembered for its role in the global cannabis industry, the city’s recent decision to regress from the cannabis industry may mean that future generations will never understand the true bond between cannabis and Amsterdam. However, this also creates the perfect opportunity for a nation, such as Thailand, to become the modern cannabis capital.

Before the country’s cannabis legalization, Thailand established a reputation for handing out harsh penalties and prison terms should one be caught with illicit drugs, including cannabis. Now, Thailand has decided to allow cannabiscafés to attract tourists. Mirror News explains that the cannabis cafés open in Thailand are “crammed with tourists” already.

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RG420 cannabis café owner Ong-ard Panyachatiraksa told Reuters, “Europeans, Japanese, Americans—they are looking for Thai sativa” and that “cannabis and tourism are a match.” When one considers the culture, tropical beaches, and inexpensive nature of Thailand, it is only logical to see how the millions of people who used to go to Amsterdam will now be frequenting Thailand instead. However, a catch could stand in the way of Thailand’s succession to the world cannabis capital.

The Hurdle to Succession

Thai genetics in cannabis strains are well sought after and can be found in strains such as Purple Thai, Highland Thai, Wild Thai, Thai, and many others that are often used for breeding modern strains. However, the current laws in Thailand technically do not allow tourists to buy cannabis for recreational purposes since “the law does not cover recreational use… and so tourism promotion is focused on medical (aspects),” explains Mirror News.

The interpretation of their decriminalization laws has led to the rise of the recreational market, which has resulted in “issuing piecemeal regulations,” explains Reuters. “Piecemeal regulations” refers to the likes of banning public smoking, restricting cannabis sales to persons under the age of 20, and so on.

However, the Thai government has yet to enforce a bill regulating recreational cannabis use, which could then impact the cannabis cafés. Given the success of the currently open cannabis cafés in attracting tourists and business into Thailand, though, it seems unlikely that officials will enforce regulations that will stand in the way of using these cafés to continue attracting tourists.

Changing Times

For Thailand, tourism is one of the main industries contributing to the economy, as it accounts for 6-7% of the gross domestic product (GDP). As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation saw up to a 95% decrease in tourists in 2021 compared to the previous year. It is estimated that the nation lost out on around 100 billion Thai Baht (USD 2 billion) in the first quarter of 2020, to show just how much this nation relies on tourism. Bloomberg explains that the weakened Baht currency and the Thai cannabis industry will result in a rise in foreign tourist arrivals, from 20 million in 2023 to around 30 million in 2024.

When the Netherlands announced a ban on cannabis for tourists, I felt as though I was being robbed of an opportunity on the cannabis connoisseurs “must do before I die” list. While Amsterdam’s enforcement of this ban is somewhat inconsistent, the idea of Thailand’s cannabis cafes made me excited all over again. I can now sit in a cannabis cafe in a tropical location and pay less money overall than I would’ve had to in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam and Thailand will always have their own thriving cultures, but times are changing. Who will take the reign as the world’s cannabis capital? Only time will tell.

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