New dispensary in Japan Town aims to enlighten customers about cannabis

Co-owners Luca and Bank. Photo: Nicky Tanskul
Co-owners Luca and Bank. Photo: Nicky Tanskul

Sukhumvit 33/1 is best known as Bangkok’s “Japanese Town” and Buddha’s Kush Street is the latest addition to the small stretch of road, nestled among its many ramen restaurants, bars, and massage parlors. The stylish dispensary is helping to introduce the area’s Japanese crowd, who come from one of the most conservative countries in the world when it comes to marijuana, to what cannabis is actually like. 

The Japanese-themed store is the brainchild of weed enthusiasts Luca Smorgon and his two partners, Sarah and Bank.

Luca, a skinny man who smiles broadly and greets customers entering through the store’s shoji (Japanese sliding door), helps ease the experience for those curious about taking a dive into the world of cannabis. His infectious laughs and jokes help give the store a friendly vibe.

Photo: Nicky Tanskul

The 21-year-old Thai-Italian, whose family owns a business that teaches new growers how to cultivate fruits and other plants, has been looking forward to opening a store since weed was decriminalized in Thailand. He and his partners finally opened up shop in early July.

According to Luca, the store’s name, which drew chuckles from gawking bystanders, wasn’t thought up to tie into the storefront’s East Asian aesthetics. Rather, it was named after two of the weed cultivator’s favorite strains – the hybrid strain “Buddha OG Kush” and the sativa strain “Laughing Buddha”. 

“They’re very popular strains among Westerners that are uplifting and make you feel really happy, so I felt the name “Buddha’s Kush Street” best represents our store,” Luca told Coconuts

Photo: Nicky Tanskul

However, as amusing as the name may seem, it is known that some Buddhist-majority countries forbid illicit use of the Buddha’s name and image, something Luca and his partners acknowledge.

“It may be a little controversial, but this was the name I wanted to go with,” Luca said. “It’s not directly named after the actual Buddha, but after my favorite strains.”

Hence, there are no images of Buddha anywhere in the dispensary or even in the store’s signage. Rather, its decor leans heavily towards that of a traditional Japanese house.

Bongs in all shapes and sizes can be seen neatly displayed throughout the room, in the same fashion as antique collectibles. To give it that extra 420 feel, poster art of Snoop Dogg, Bob Marley and Black Sabbath adorn one wall, while faded polaroid photos of the store’s customers are featured on another.

Photo: Nicky Tanskul

Although Westerners backpackers make up the majority of Buddha’s Kush Street’s clientele, (somewhere “around 90%”, Luca noted) the store has started to attract more Japanese customers.

“Despite our location, in the beginning, we had very few Japanese coming in because they come from a very conservative society,” Luca said.

Japan is known for having some of the strictest cannabis laws in the world. Those possessing any quantity of the drug for personal use could receive five years in prison while those caught growing it can be sentenced to up to seven years.

Weed advocate Jacob Coyner, who previously lived in Japan for over 10 years, explains that his friends in the country have been arrested for possession of marijuana, regardless of the amount.

“My friend is doing 10 years,” Jacob told Coconuts. “He was growing in his apartment and had some networks going on. You’re screwed if caught with any little amount of weed. Straight to jail.”

However, Luca notes that his store could help introduce Japanese customers to what cannabis is actually like.

“We’ve seen Japanese vloggers come in and review the place, and that’s how we attract the Japanese market.”

Luca recalled a housewife, in her mid-30s to 40s, had come into the shop to help find something to help her relax before bedtime, and he recommended she try a CBD strain as something to start with.

That Luca is prepared to make customers feel at ease shows how the dispensary is accommodating to both casual and regular smokers. 

Like most dispensaries, the store is ready to teach anybody how to roll and smoke, provided that the owners aren’t too preoccupied with other customers.

“If a customer does not know how to roll, we will gladly teach them how,” Luca said. “We should open up a course!” Sarah chimed in.

Coupled with Luca’s easy-going and friendly personality, his store feels warm and welcoming; as if you’ve just walked into your new neighbor’s house.

Co-owners Luca and Bank. Photo: Nicky Tanskul
Photo: Nicky Tanskul

A plethora of strains are available at Buddha’s Kush Street, both homegrown and imports. Thai strains include indica Planet of Grape (THB400) and sativa strains Mimosa (THB) and White Runtz (THB520).

Imports are separated into two categories – ones grown in a greenhouse in Colorado and ones grown indoors in California. All strains from Colorado, such as G13 and Biscotti, are priced at THB700. The California imports are the most expensive, such as hybrid strains Gary Payton at THB750 and Grapes N Cream at THB800.

All strains can be bought in bulk of 3.5g and 28g. Those who don’t want anything containing CBD or THC can opt for terpene gummies, sourced from cannabis advocate Chokwan ‘Kitty’ Chopaka’s Chopaka storefront, for THB159.

“For two weeks, I was searching all over Bangkok to see where I could open my store, until I came across this Japanese-focused area,” Luca said. “I thought this would work as a good spot because one, it’s near the BTS Skytrain, and two, I see there is an untapped market in Japanese people as well tourists frequenting places nearby such as the Hilton Sukhumvit and Villa Market which is open 24/7.”

As previously mentioned, the little stretch of road and alley where Buddha’s Kush Street is situated features numerous Japanese restaurants and bakeries, massage parlors, and UFM Fuji Super supermarket. The storefront benefits the Japanese crowd, even more so for those eating and drinking during late hours.

“I bet that people who hang around these places late at night are those who would probably be interested in smoking. They are free to visit the shop late after they go about their nightlife.”

Buddha’s Kush Street is open daily from 10am-1am. It’s located in Soi Sukhumvit 33/1 and reachable from BTS Phrom Phong.

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