Pattaya cashes in on marijuana bonanza

Empty units in Pattaya are rapidly being transformed into ganja selling shops and cafes.

There are now more than 200 perfectly legal retail outlets in Pattaya and beyond whose main function is selling the now-decriminalized weed. It can be bought in top or medium quality, straight or in joints and as a food and drink additive. If you want to relax at home, then your smoking accessories such as rolling papers, bongs and grinders are readily on sale. Not to mention a 24/7 delivery service to your front door. If you thought the pizza man these days brought only rounds of dough and tomato sauce, think again.

At the top end of the market are posh premises with elegant interiors and enticing names such as Highsiam, Cannabeach, The Old Weed Man and Stoners Corner. But there are also a growing number of single shop units, including mama and papa stores, in Pattaya and across the Dark Side whose owners find that selling ganja is a better idea than trying to compete in the traditional grocery market with the likes of Big C or Lotus’s. At night, there are also mobile stalls and push carts in popular tourist areas. One, on Soi Bukhao, is called Smoky Joe’s New Generation.

Weed for sale comes under a large number of labels, often reflecting quality and price.

If Pattaya built its reputation as Sin City, it looks as if the new title should be Pot City which is certainly benefitting from legal ambiguities. Although selling weed to minors (under 20) or pregnant and breastfeeding mums is a clear no-no, even smoking in public is only prosecutable under nuisance legislation and requires somebody actually to complain. A narcotics act is still wending its way through parliament and may, or may not, make a significant attempt to restrict weed use in public. In the meantime, most official buildings such as the police station or city hall have banned ganja use along with cigarette smoking.

Opponents of pot-hole cafes haven’t quite given up. A man selling weed in Walking Street was recently injured by an angry customer who claimed he didn’t know what gorilla glue and sour diesel were and consequently threw up after the first taste. A woman tourist was rushed to hospital after complaining of awful tightness in the chest after consuming laced caramel popcorn, but it turned out her corsets were the cause of discomfort. A group of Taiwanese visitors said they were very disappointed, after a minibus tour of Discovery Park, because it turned out to be fields of ganja plants and a plant museum rather than the prehistoric monsters they had been told roamed there.

Selling cannabis has proved to be a marketing dream for advertisers with a flair for originality.

Yet the whole ganja business is as much political as it is leisure-related. The Bhumjaithai party, led by the ambitious minister of health Anutin Charnvirakul, pushed the decriminalization through parliament to enhance their electoral popularity with grassroots Thai voters and to boost the income of citizens who want to grow the stuff to sell for medical purposes. That strategy has worked well. After the next election, the party could well be the kingmaker. In the meantime, Pattaya city authorities have dropped the idea of renaming Pattaya as Neo (New) Pattaya – the eastern seaboard’s upmarket business and leisure resort. That expression could now be seriously misunderstood to mean something entirely different.