As we watch new states here in the US and countries around the world legalize marijuana, the stigmas behind being a cannabis consumer, and the ease of acquiring products continues to change rapidly. What was once taboo and conducted in the shadows has made its way to Main Street. Today we’re happy to have Dennis Walker, aka mycoprenuerpodcast on Instagram, come through to share stories from traveling abroad.
I’ve bought weed on the underground market in all types of situations from all types of people across the world since I became fascinated with cannabis in 2006. To date, I’ve consumed cannabis in a wide variety of ways with a multitude of colorful characters in around 40 countries on six continents. Buying legal weed anywhere is still a huge trip for me.
Thailand’s About Face
I’m standing in the middle of a legal “weed city” located on Khaosan Road, one of Bangkok’s most popular tourist areas. Plantopia is a complex of about a dozen storefronts selling various strains of flower, edibles, and cannabis culture accessories and apparel amidst a brightly lit food court style atmosphere with a shared consumption lounge in the middle.
It’s absolutely surreal to be maneuvering through thick clouds of smoke at a fully legal and highly visible cannabis complex in Southeast Asia, a region notoriously draconian on their policy and law enforcement around the plant.
Last time I was here on Khaosan Road a decade ago, I had to duck into a dark alleyway and engage in a hasty transaction with a vendor selling me essentially whatever grade of flower they had on hand for whatever they wanted to charge.
It worked out alright, but it was a far cry from the relaxed atmosphere and the diverse selection available to tourists and locals alike in Bangkok today thanks to the establishment of a recreational cannabis market on June 9th, 2022.
Risk vs Reward
The first time I ever had an edible was a giant weed pancake purchased from a rural mom and pop restaurant clinging to the side of a dramatic cliff in China’s Yunnan province in the Fall of 2006.
Despite the heavy criminal penalties enforced around cannabis in China, the vendors seemed undeterred from openly advertising ‘Happy Menu Items’ with a caricature of a red-eyed stoner face emblazoned on the back page of the restaurant menu.
This type of ‘wink-wink’ cannabis advertising is quite familiar to backpackers and tourists in many regions of the globe where the plant is technically highly illegal, but where laws are not enforced due to autonomous local control – or government complicity in – the cannabis trade. But it’s certainly not like that everywhere.
On one particular occasion in Libertad, El Salvador in the summer of 2010, I found myself and two friends waiting on a dark, empty street for a shadowy figure to go back and forth with his contact to get us the weed we were after. It took 3 hours, partially because there was a shootout the week before at his usual contact’s house.
The weed was some of the lowest-grade schwag I’ve ever laid eyes upon, damp, stringy, and wrapped in little newspaper balls – but in a pinch, it got the job done.
Black Sheep in the Middle East
Even in the middle of the desert in a cannabis inhospitable SWANA region (Middle East for those less familiar with this term) nation, I connected with a hashish enthusiast who very scrupulously picked me out of a crowd as being the most likely to sympathize with his devotion to the plant.
I’m not sure what gave me away; the mushroom embroidery on my shirt or the fact that I naturally talk like a Californian stoner, because, well, that’s who I am at heart.
He swore me to secrecy several times before handing over a nice thick chunk of hash, confiding in me that his family and other locals must not find out that he is a cannabis enthusiast as it is not socially acceptable in the tight-knit community. As a formerly closeted stoner and psychonaut for years, I can fully relate.
Seeing as how I’ll probably go back to some of these countries, I don’t necessarily want to name all the different scenarios and circumstances – but procuring and traveling with cannabis – sometimes across international borders – is an extremely familiar enterprise for traveling stoners.
Constant State of Fear
In each of the aforementioned scenarios, and a hundred more like them around the world, procuring cannabis on the underground market and sharing a spliff with locals is a rite of passage for many travelers around the world.
It’s an opportunity to put aside cultural differences and preconceptions of life across borders and to connect on a roots level with fellow ambassadors and enthusiasts of the cannabis plant. Transactions are often done in the shadows and sworn to secrecy among all members present.
Another angle to purchasing black market cannabis internationally is the constant presence of police checkpoints and vehicle searches while traveling. This is akin to the “random” police searches in the US, except everybody is subjected to them while you’re traveling on the road networks in many countries.
In Egypt last year, while crossing from the Sinai Peninsula into mainland Egypt, our bus stopped at an unexpected checkpoint set up like an international border.
The peninsular diving town we were in had a very relaxed attitude toward cannabis, as evidenced by the waiter we got ours from who was openly smoking a spliff while preparing to open a beachfront cafe at 6 am.
Mainland Egypt and its authorities, however, do not necessarily share this same laissez faire attitude towards the plant. As the bus pulled up to the stadium-lit checkpoint screening area, my heart sank as I registered a pair of dogs at the command of the authorities screening every parcel of luggage from the bus beside us.
This was not a chill moment on that trip. My mind immediately went to how I was going to talk my way out of this – and what the culture of bribes was here, or what legal options might be available once the bag inevitably got a hit from the dog. I didn’t need to be so intensely concerned; though we did indeed remove each piece of luggage from the bus and open it in front of the authorities, we were spared the canine scrutiny.
In Costa Rica, I was scammed out of $40 for a sack of weed once when the dealer pulled a bait and switch in a disco-ball lit club when I was a few drinks in. The sack he showed me and let me examine vs. the sack I ended up with contained different leafy green substances, which I found out when I attempted to roll a joint of random vegetation on the beach the next day.
He was extremely adamant about making an undetectable hand off when it came time to make the transaction, which served as an excellent smokescreen for his ruse.
This is a minor transgression in the scheme of rip offs and bad deals, but it also caused me to think twice about buying weed from any of the other potential sources while I was in the area.
The older I get, the lower my risk threshold, and so I generally prefer to now buy weed from legal vendors where possible rather than stick my neck out in unfamiliar areas.
If I’m familiar with the terrain and have local contacts there, or the plant finds its way to me naturally in a stress-free environment, who am I to say no to that? But there are definitely parts of the world where cannabis culture is still extremely taboo, and so I don’t go around trying to find weed in those places anymore.
Recently, I’ve become connected to a group of cannabis entrepreneurs in Chiapas, Mexico, who last year hosted the first cannabis cup in Chiapas, Mexico. Simio Autocultivo is a group of young Mexican cannabis entrepreneurs who are legally compliant with local authorities, and who collaborate with municipal governance to produce educational campaigns and cannabis events for the community.
This extraordinary group of cannabis entrepreneurs is so far removed from the rhetoric and stereotypes around the mexico cannabis trade that many people in the U.S. hear about that you’d have to see it to believe it.
I’ve even purchased legal cannabis in India thanks to the government-regulated bhang trade. The ball of cannabis resin came on so potent and profoundly, that only the nibbles I’ve taken off of 500 milligram hash oil terp ropes are comparable in my lived experience of being uber stoned.
I’ve bought, bartered for, and occasionally sold cannabis in around 40 countries on 6 continents by my count. I’ve had many wonderful and memorable experiences centered around weed in a host of different unregulated environments from a multitude of colorful underground characters who were generally affable and jovial throughout our black-market transactions.
But in the end, I much prefer complying with official state sanctions where applicable – especially when those sanctions allow for my lawful ability to get high. I imagine many people around the world share my same sense of optimism for a legal, compliant, and sensible policy towards cannabis that allows for adult recreational use without having to take unnecessary risks.
As the great Bill Murray once said, “I find it highly ironic that the most dangerous thing about cannabis is getting caught with it.”
This time around in Thailand, I found the straightforwardness of a legal cannabis transaction so much more appealing than trying to solicit my beloved ganja from an unknown entity with questionable wares and sales tactics.
No more ducking into dark alleys and mentally formulating an exit strategy at point of sale for $10 worth of weed; this time, I get to do it in full view of the rest of the cannabis tourists and enthusiasts, as well as under the watchful eye of venue security in a state-compliant venue.
The path towards establishing a legal cannabis market is one which should be embraced by as many different countries as possible, to the benefit of all stakeholders involved – from the consumers, to the entrepreneurs, to the various industries involved in the cannabis supply chain and supportive frameworks, all the way up to the highest levels of government.
Legalizing cannabis and laying the foundations for a competitive market is a huge win for everyone, even if there are still growing pains in the process of establishing that market.
Enjoyed that first hit? Come chill with us every week at the Friday Sesh for a freshly packed bowl of the week’s best cannabis news!