Drug Law Reform in ThailandThailand's Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya speaking at the UN on the importance of a Mekong & ASEAN drug policy that puts people and health first https://t.co/XtIMYzyOGK pic.twitter.com/hPx4t6FAgm— UNODC SEAsia-Pacific (@UNODC_SEAP) November 30, 2016
On Nov 24th 2016 the NLA approved 'edits' to the 2522 (1979) Narcotics Act by 160 votes to 0. These reforms were promulgated in the Royal Gazette on Jan 15th 2017.
Appearing subtle at first, the edits reformed the mandatory death penalty for drugs - and a far-reaching change in the wording of the code means that drug users will no longer be automatically prosecuted as drug dealers.
Death Penalty in Thailand
Narcotics Act Reforms announced in January 2017 mean Thailand's ultra-hardline stance of capital punishment for drug dealers may be about to change.
Judges are now being given room to assess individual cases - just as the courts have individually assessed every prisoner's case for amnesty in the last two Royal Pardons (granted graciously to prisoners in Aug 2016 & Dec 2016).
Instead of rigidly sticking to the harsh letter of the law, regardless of the individual's circumstances - as female drug mules, for example - the reforms now give the courts wider sentencing guidelines to work within.
Importantly, the death penalty is no longer mandatory for traffickers or producers of Class 1 narcotic for the purpose of disposal. The judge can now assess every case on its own merits - and can give a life sentence or the death penalty.
|Thailand reforms the death penalty for drugs|
is not ready to abolish the death penalty for drug offences' IDPC
This change in policy echoes the surprising comments by an Head Judge in Indonesia - in light the country's recent Bali 9 executions - when sentencing 3 drug dealers to life, instead of death, in Dec 2016:
'The death penalty is a violation of human rightsand there is no evidence that it has any deterrent effect.'
.@jdouglasSEA: UNODC ready 2 assist #Mekong, #ASEAN move towards #health & community centered, balanced #drugpolicy https://t.co/XtIMYzQpyi pic.twitter.com/ZeMJqQoJvZ— UNODC SEAsia-Pacific (@UNODC_SEAP) November 30, 2016
*Heroin and Meth from Myanmar seized in Inner Mongolia
*400kg Ketamine seized in China
*'Poison Factory' chemical seizures on Vietnam border, bound for Myanmar
Flash in the pan? Or are we witnessing a real time change in drug policy enforcement - away from the streets to the transnational organised crime behind the scenes?
Judge Weerapon Thongsuwan, President of Supreme Court, discussing The Court’s Role in Reducing the Number of Low-Level Drug Offenders pic.twitter.com/KPj9f3wuSy— NoBox Transitions (@NoBoxT) January 5, 201
Quantity thresholds have been revoked in the recent Narcotics Act Reforms, and people in possession of Class 1 are now deemed as 'presumed' not 'regarded' to have intent to sell. These are potentially far reaching edits to the Narcotics Act, in practice and time.
Possession of more than 0.375g of meth (an amount which would get a caution in the West, and has seen many farang locked up in Thailand for the minimum sentence of 2 years on a guilty plea) can now be sentenced from 1yrs to 10 yrs - instead of 4 yrs to life.
Pleading guilty in Thailand reduces the sentence by 50%, so drug users could potentially be 'flushed out of the system' within 6 months. Sounds good in principle?
Tonite, where are U sleeping? Dozens of Thai prisoners are sleeping in this tight floor space w/blanket & pillow b/c they had a few MA pills pic.twitter.com/WTShegDlsj— Carl Hart (@drcarlhart) January 11, 2017
At a Kamlangjai drug policy conference - co-sponsored by drug policy think tank IDPC - in Bangkok in January 2017, leading Thai academic Prof. Sungsidh Piriyarangsan gave a lecture on Controlling Methamphetamine:
'There is no use in putting people who use drugs in prisons. People who use drugs are not objects. They are human beings. We have invested a lot in drug suppression but this has resulted in heavy social and productivity costs.
To address the drug problem, we need courage, but the right kind of courage - moral courage. Do the people who can make change have the heart, strength, & courage to put down their own bias and do the right thing?'
Time for Change
Asia Nikkei's Agent of Change 2017, Princess Pa, has been briefing the UN about worldwide prison issues for a decade. The King's daughter gave the world the Bangkok Rules for minimum treatment and conditions for women in jail. HRH's Kamlangjai - 'Moral Support' or Inspire Project - recently produced this drug law reform video:
'Everything we know about addiction is wrong' - How Nixon's 40yr war on drugs has been a failure, and the need for a scientific & healthcare approach for drug users, not incarceration. Thai/English w subtitles, explains drug reform and addiction.
'In Thailand, royally backed initiatives are highly influential among elite lawmakers and treated as sacrosanct,' reports PRI's Global Post, saying this Princess-led campaign has helped to trigger a 'furious rethink' of drug crime policy.
There were over 200,000 drug cases in prison in Thailand in July 2016.
Since then, there have been two Royal Amnesties and an implicitly far-reaching reform of the drug laws - all within the last six months. With signals that there is more prison and policy reform to come, Thailand could be entering interesting times.
At a time when Mad Dog Duterte is making headlines for his overkill War on Drugs in the Philippines, the rest of the world, ASEAN included, may finally be admitting that Nixon got it all wrong - and now is the time for drug policy reform.
Time for change in 2017?
* Thanks to iLaw for the Thai explanations of the drug law reforms, and to Gloria Lai at IDPC for the English translation!