Why Phnom Penh, Cambodia is The New Marijuana Hotspot

Marijuana is sometimes used as a herb in Cambodian cooking
Marijuana is sometimes used as a herb in Cambodian cooking | © underworld/ Shutterstock

* Please note that buying, selling and possession of marijuana in Cambodia is illegal and could land tourists with a hefty fine or jail sentence – so act at your own discretion.

Over the years Phnom Penh, Cambodia has evolved into an unlikely hotspot for marijuana enthusiasts. Catering to a thriving backpacker scene, the bustling city has turned what was once an ancient, medicinal herb into the star of many a Southeast Asia bucket list. Nowadays, backpacker hubs all over Cambodia are dotted with (aptly named) ‘happy’ pizza restaurants, offering the doughy dish with an extra side of greens.

Thanks to Cambodia’s ‘happy pizza‘ phenomenon, you’ll be hard-pressed to miss the tables of travellers giggling into cheese-laden margheritas. The sheer range of restaurants cooking with this special ingredient is surprising, with the herb manifesting itself into tantalising food varieties (re: ‘happy’ milkshakes).

At the end of the day, however, pizza has become Phnom Penh’s stoner mainstay – turning this corner of Southeast Asia into a strange, hazy imitation of Southern Italy.

While the pizza itself may not be the best around, (let’s be honest) it’s the topping that counts. Store owners sprinkle their pies with lashings of marijuana, creating the illusion that what you’re biting into is spinach, kale or far too much oregano.

Is it legal?

Phnom Penh’s rising number of ‘happy pizza’ restaurants can, incorrectly, lead visitors to believe the drug is legal in Cambodia – when, in fact, it isn’t. So, when the tuk-tuk drivers on the capital’s riverside ask if you want ‘ganja’ as you pass them by, remember you can find yourself in trouble with the law, with some hefty police pay-offs needed to avoid spending the night in jail.

‘Happy’ pizza can be found in the tourist hubs of Cambodia

Traditionally, marijuana was used as a herb in some Khmer dishes to complement the flavour. In the provinces, it’s also used by some for medicinal purposes.

When the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia landed in 1992 for its peacekeeping mission, it nominally banned the drug, but enforcement was lacking.

In 1996, the country passed its first law on drugs, which declares marijuana illegal, although Cambodians are allowed to grow a small number of plants for medicinal or cooking purposes. This law is not applicable to non-Cambodians.

Since the introduction of the statute, the government has been cracking down on drugs, but the focus tends to be thrust upon harder drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, which are common in Cambodia.

While ‘happy’ pizza parlours appear to sit in a grey area, visitors tend to be able to enjoy their high in peace, because the police aren’t typically going to come knocking at these establishments.

Marijuana is sometimes used as a herb in Cambodian cooking

How much and where to go?

And how much for a slice of the action? Prices vary from place to place – as well as the quality of the cannabis, which is often grown in the open in Cambodia’s provinces – but usually sit between the $7 and $10 USD mark for one large pizza.

With the strength varying, it’s difficult to say how much to eat. However, chance meetings with those who have scoffed a full one and lost the ability to function would suggest sharing your pizza with a couple of pals should suffice. It can sneak up on you.

Remember, you can always get more.

Here are a few popular venues if you’re seeking your happy pizza fix in Phnom Penh – chow down responsibly!

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