Pubdate: Fri, 08 May 2015
Source: Nation, The (Thailand)
Copyright: 2015 Nation Multimedia Group


Regardless of What Our Self-Serving Leaders Say, the So-Called Wars 
on Drugs Have Been a Disaster

Laws to deal with drugs offences drew international attention in 
recent weeks as rights groups, governments and family members called 
on President Joko Widodo to pardon a group of drug traffickers 
sentenced to death in Indonesia.

But at the centre of debate was not Indonesia's drug problem, as Joko 
claimed. Instead, much of the attention focused on Indonesia's 
domestic politics, where capital punishment has become a tool used by 
politicians to shore up their power.

Leaders in Thailand have tried the same trick. Thaksin Shinawatra, 
shortly after he came to power in 2001, sought to enhance his 
popularity by vowing that drug traffickers would be executed every 
month. But he quickly learned the cost of such brashness, facing a 
barrage of protest from the international community.

Citizens the world over - including the majority in Thailand and 
Indonesia - support these tough measures mainly because they believe 
that stiff penalties are necessary to deter drug traffickers.

In reality, however, study after study has shown that the death 
penalty is not an effective deterrent.

In Thailand the street value of methamphetamines (known as ya ba) has 
risen sharply in recent years, driven in part by politicians' 
eagerness to make their name via harsh crackdowns on the trade.

But as the price goes up, so does the rate of production. Ya ba - 
"crazy medicine" - can now be purchased just about anywhere, despite 
sharing the same legal category as heroin.

A recent seminar in Bangkok saw academics join civic organisations in 
calling for the current drug laws to be amended. Among the reasons 
they cited were the overcrowding in Thai prisons.

Associate Professor Sungsidh Piriya-rangsan, dean of Rangsit 
University's College of Social Innovation, said at the conference 
that more than 90 per cent of drug convicts should not be in jail at 
all. He said they are in prison only because the law stipulates that 
even those caught with a small amount of drugs must be convicted of 

Thailand ranks highest in Southeast Asia and fourth in the world when 
it comes to the number of women jailed for drugs offences, he pointed 
out. In some cases, innocent women are arrested just because they 
happen to be accompanying their drug-dealing boyfriends when the 
police arrived.

"Some women have also agreed to confess to crimes they did not 
commit, for the sake of a loved one," Sungsidh said.

According to Thai law, possession of a mere 15 milligrams of 
methamphetamine represents "intent to sell". In other words, in the 
eyes of the law, there is no distinction between a user and a trafficker.

Politicians like to back such harsh drug laws to enhance their 
standing among voters and within their own parties. But in this case, 
self-serving political strategy must give way to a more critical and 
holistic attitude if we want effective measures to combat the damage 
done by the trade in narcotics.

In many countries, what was illegal yesterday is legal today. In the 
United States, the legalisation and taxation of marijuana has saved a 
number of counties and districts from bankruptcy.

At the Bangkok conference, former Office of the Narcotics Control 
Board deputy secretary-general Pittaya Jinawat pointed out that the 
herbal intoxicant kratom ( Mitragyna speciosa) is in fact less 
dangerous to health than alcohol or cigarettes, "but it is legally 
recognised as an illicit drug".

Pittaya joined others in calling for an end to the so-called war on 
drugs, saying the extreme measures are not working. He added that the 
many of the convicted drug offenders in Thai prisons are actually 
victims of the trade, while the real kingpins remain untouched by the law.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom