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While many were still coming to terms with Thailand’s decriminalization of cannabis, aficionados lit blunts, inhaled massive hits from “weed cannons,” hit bongs, and chugged weed-infused drinks this weekend in celebration.

With cannabis completely legal – restrictions such as a basic age limit remain before parliament – hundreds got high together at the first annual 420 festival in Bangkok to feature open smoking of marijuana.

“At first I saw cops walking around, and by old habit, I hurriedly put my joints away,” said attendee Morakod Chitsombunchai. “Then it hit me, that actually I didn’t have to hide when smoking weed.”

Apitchet Saensaman, 33, said he “thought it would take much, much longer [to decriminalize] buds.”

That sentiment was echoed in the weekend event’s name, Thailand 420: Legalaew!? (“legalized!?”), reflecting the uncertainty that Thailand would make a complete about-face on cannabis policy by suddenly allowing the purchase, sale, and consumption of the drug without consequence, though use of extracts remain regulated and further restrictions will likely be passed by parliament. 

Thick smoke accompanied open weed-smoking as revelers celebrated the legalization of cannabis Sunday at the Thailand 420: Legalaew event in western metro Bangkok. Photo: Chayanit Itthipongmaetee / Coconuts Bangkok

The event, hosted by cannabis group Highland and other legalization advocates, unfolded under a lot of purple haze at a man-made beach in Nakhom Pathom’s Nakhon Chai Si district – only a one-hour drive from Bangkok’s downtown.

Its first day was obliterated Saturday evening by a powerful, killjoy rainstorm followed by Woodstock-worthy struggles through mud. The event resumed Sunday for a breezy, rain-free evening.

Sellers of cannabis edibles at the Thailand 420: Legalaew event pose for a photo. Photo: Chayanit Itthipongmaetee / Coconuts Bangkok

Hundreds of people entered the venue to browse and buy weed and weed products. Some opted to chill by the artificial sands, lay on beach beds or under bamboo-clad shelters to smoke joints or take hits from pipes and bongs. In one corner, a wide ventilation connected to a cooking pot full of buds belched thick white smoke for passers-by to plunge their face into.

Unlike previous 420 events, where weed was notably absent and attendees pored over growing gear and accessories, this year was different. Cannabis plants and jars of buds were on display at multiple booths while free rolling papers and bongs were given away in exchange for followers.

Another plant-based substance, kratom, since its legalization last year, was also omnipresent in the form of kratom-infused sodas, capsules, and plants. 

Big grins from Thai ‘cholos’ celebrating the fest before a totem of brick weed. Photo: Chayanit Itthipongmaetee / Coconuts Bangkok

The event saw a few officials looking on to “ensure safety and peace.” They did not intervene with attendees who smoked weed, and no arrests were made.

Though weed has become no longer illegal since June 9, health authorities have urged people to smoke on private property or face arrest under public nuisance laws. After receiving a warning, those who continue to cause a nuisance face a fine and arrest. The police can make such complaints against those spotted smoking in public spaces. Repeat offenders risk up to a THB25,000 (US$724) fine and three months in jail.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, whose popularity sagged due to unforced errors during the pandemic, got a boost to his stock for championing legalization.

The only thing forbidden at this time is the unauthorized use of THC “extracts” such as oils. In short, until the Cannabis Act has been passed by parliament and come into force, weed is as illegal as cabbage or potatoes.

It’s easy to interpret successful decriminalization as a political triumph for Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and his Bhumjaitai Party, one of the biggest ruling coalition members, especially with a general election expected next year. 

All photos by Chayanit Itthipongmaetee / Coconuts Bangkok

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