Pubdate: Wed, 06 May 2015
Source: Nation, The (Thailand)
Copyright: 2015 Nation Multimedia Group
Author: Chularat Saengpassa


People Wrongly Jailed for Possessing Small Amount of Drugs, Academics Say

IT IS HIGH TIME Thailand amends its drug laws so as to ease prison 
crowding and stop putting so many undeserving people behind bars, a 
recent seminar was told.

Assoc Prof Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, dean of Rangsit University's 
College of Social Innovation, believes that more than 90 per cent of 
drug convicts should not be in jail.

Speaking at the seminar held by his college, Sungsidh said a large 
number of drug offenders were sent to prison only because Thai laws 
made it possible for people caught with a very small amount of drugs 
to get a trafficking conviction.

"Today, when it comes to female inmates on drug convictions, Thailand 
ranks first in Asean and fourth in the world," Sungsidh said.

The seminar tackled the theme of "War on Drugs: Prisons and Jailed 
Female Victims".

The academic also lamented that many women ended up in legal trouble 
simply because someone close to them, such as a relative or 
boyfriend, had been involved in the drug trade.

"In some cases, women were arrested just because they happened to be 
with their boyfriends at the time the police showed up," he said. 
"Some women have also agreed to confess to crimes they did not commit 
for the sake of a beloved."

At the same seminar, Constitution Court Judge Jaran Pukditanakul 
questioned the fairness of a legal clause that said a person found to 
have 15 milligrams of a methamphetamine should be charged with being 
in possession of the illicit drug with the intent to sell.

"With this legal clause, it is easy for police, public prosecutors 
and courts to work because they do not have to use any other form of 
evidence to prove the accused with illicit drugs in possession is a 
drug abuser or a drug trafficker," he said.

The judge called for a review of this clause. In addition, he raised 
concern about the current categorisation of illicit drugs in 
Thailand. He said methamphetamines used to be known just as 
"amphetamines", which were not in the same category as more harmful 
drugs like heroin.

He said that as widespread antidrug discourse spurred public fear and 
hatred towards narcotics, policy-making politicians had decided to 
label amphetamines as "methamphetamine" and put them in the same 
category as heroin. Legal punishment related to methamphetamines is 
as severe as that related to heroin today," Jaran pointed out. He 
said this re-categorisation of drugs had sent hundreds of thousands 
of people to prison.

"We must rethink the decision to put amphetamines in the same 
category as heroin," Jaran emphasised.

Pittaya Jinawat, a former deputy secretary-general of the Office of 
the Narcotics Control Board, said people should look at drug problems 
with understanding, and any extreme approach should be avoided.

For example, he said, kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) was in fact less 
toxic than liquor or cigarettes, "but it is legally recognised as an 
illicit drug".

Pittaya said the tough punishment of traffickers and dealers 
practised around the world had proved ineffective in curbing the drug scourge.

He spoke in conjunction with Sungsidh, who believed the "war on 
drugs" should end.

According to Pittaya, convicted drug offenders themselves victims of 
the drug-trafficking trade, and pay a high price while drug kingpins 
remain scot-free.

Pittaya is now a deputy chairman of a working panel tasked with how 
to reduce the number of female drug-related inmates, a project 
launched in response to HRH Princess Bhajara Kitiyabha's initiative.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom