Photos by Teirra Kamolvattanavith/Coconuts Bangkok
A roach smoldering in his one hand and a phone in the other, 24-year-old Daopetch “Dao” Phetsiriseng – who says he’s a dentist by profession, grower by infatuation – flashed a grin from under a droopy bowler hat to take an obligatory #420 selfie.
Though he did not travel from Laos to advocacy group Highland’s fifth annual cannabis festival with his own supply Saturday, some new friends at the Runway 3119 Night Market shared what he couldn’t risk at the border.
“I traveled from Laos specifically just to attend this event with my girlfriend,” Daopetch said, gesturing to a petite, smiling woman beside him. “We’ve been here since 2pm because I wanted to learn as much as I can.”
Four months after Thailand legalized medical marijuana use, enthusiasm and cannabis wafted over the festival and its attendees, whose optimism in the nascent industry couldn’t be wilted by the stroke-out heat.
Though he seemed all recreation, Daopetch told Coconuts Bangkok that the festival, which due to the searing heat or distant locale was more sparsely attended than in previous years, was actually all work.
He said he’s trying to incubate little home-grown plants into a huge cannabis cultivation business – one so big it could help shift a culture where the herb still has a nasty rep thought its government is also flirting with decriminalization.
While there was no weed openly for sale (apart from overpriced “special” cookies here and there) one could catch whiffs of the goods along the outskirts. The smell gradually intensified as the sun started heading down until aromatic smoke veiled parts of the festival by nightfall.
Though a few cops still kept an eye on things in previous editions of Highland, they were nowhere to be seen Saturday apart from at the entry security checkpoint.
Chatthong Rimthong, a festival vendor, said the mainstreaming of marijuana in Thai society was to thank for an event that proved much more laissez-faire than previous years.
“It’s been gradually getting better until it reached its peaking point this year,” he said, adding that he is most pleasantly surprised at the amount of Generation X-ers advocating for legalization.
He was surprised the charge was led by bureaucrats and doctors.
“You would think it would be millennials fighting for it, not middle-aged politicians and academics. But turns out, most young people like my friends aren’t actively trying to change the law like these guys,” Chatthong said.
The Highland event was joined this year by a second cannabis festival in the northeastern province of Buriram, home to the political stronghold of a political party which performed strongly in last month’s election after campaigning on the full legalization of marijuana.
“I was originally planning to go to the Buriram event, but I heard that was more of a music festival. My focus is on education. …I’m just really, really happy to be here,” said Daopetch, the Lao dentist, before taking another long drag.
The festival was a languid affair until after the sun went down and the vendors, discussions and workshops gave way to a live reggae band on the main stage.
The area in front of the stage that had been empty most of the 37C day started filling with swaying millennials. Others plopped down on mats laid out on the grass while still others hung out in wooden structures along the outskirts of the venue.
Though weed has been a Class 5 narcotic with serious criminal penalties, a network of growers has flourished and expanded in recent years.
Chatthong, the vendor, said that though he is still at university, he also consults with many grow houses all over Thailand, which he refused to name nor locate. He said he hopes to open his own soon.
The young cultivator was with his family Saturday, among dozens of vendors selling products at the festival’s lifestyle market. Their booth, “Grow Stuff,” boasted a wide array of cultivation equipment including grow tents, pots and soil nutrients.
Their main feature, however, was Chatthong’s self-designed grow lights suitable for indoor cultivation. As an engineering university student with a big interested in weed, he said most of his cannabis knowledge is self-acquired.
The internet, he said was his appointed professor. After all, Thai colleges don’t (yet) offer Weed 101.
He said his interest started with recreational marijuana use, which led him down the medical rabbit hole.
Just before walking out of their booth, his mother – who had been promoting their business with some very rowdy speakers – suddenly removed her headset and stopped a reporter in her tracks to reveal the origins of her son’s interest.
“What truly inspired him the most was the fact that his father died of liver cancer when he was in grade 4. That’s what got him interested in the medical benefits,” she said.
Avoided eye contact, Chatthong was reluctant to discuss his father’s death 11 years ago.
There’s been a large shift in society’s mentality toward pot, according to 25-year-old Pattarawadee Chanta, another vendor who works at the Paperhouse smoke shop in the Seacon Square mall and another called The Session in the Silom area.
“Thai people really didn’t know what it is before. They saw yaba (street meth) and weed as the same kind of thing. … In the past people wouldn’t dare admit that they smoked,” she said. “They would never say ganja. They’d use code names like ‘going to the cave,’ because they had to hide it. They have to hide that part of themselves.”
She credits the internet and online discussions for helping Thais better understand what marijuana is.
“Now, I hear people ask each other if they want to go smoke. That’s already a huge difference,” she added that business really exploded in 2017.
Pattarawadee admits that she is a little nervous about more competition now that more smoke shops are popping up across the kingdom. However, that fear is far outweighed by her delight in the plant’s de-stigmatization.
To find out more about the kingdom’s medical marijuana awakening, check out Coconuts TV’s documentary mini-series available on Netflix now.
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