Pubdate: Wed, 10 Feb 2016
Source: Bangkok Post (Thailand)
Copyright: The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2016


The United Nations is aiming to set a new macro policy on 
recreational drugs worldwide, starting today. It has taken almost a 
generation even to get to this point, which is the token beginning of 
a UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs. There are strong 
feelings emerging that the UN itself might even take a stand leaning 
towards legalisation of such drugs. A kickoff meeting this evening in 
New York will hear testimony, mostly from the pro-enforcement side.

This is, essentially, Thailand's time to stand up for this country's 
policies on illegal drugs - or to call for changes. It is certain 
that after today's "interactive panel discussions" on the subject 
that a handful of Latin American countries and most of the 279 NGOs 
registered to attend will be lobbying hard on the legalisation side. 
Thailand and Thais are not prepared to go that far. Yet changes must be made.

To articulate a policy on illicit drugs, officials must recognise 
what everyone already knows. The war on drugs has been fought for 40 
years. The traffickers have won many battles and are winning the war. 
Law enforcement, despite hard work and dedicated officers, has been 
out-planned, out-thought, out-manoeuvred and often even out-gunned. 
Thailand is a hub of illegal drugs.

Thai and foreign makers, smugglers and traffickers of drugs import 
and export vast amounts of heroin, amphetamine-type drugs, synthetic 
"night club" psychoactive substances and even cocaine. Whether drug 
peddling and abuse are out of control is a matter of definition. But 
the arrests for drugs have filled every prison in the country to 
overflowing, and no signs show the drug trade is decreasing.

Several countries, even some US states who invented the original war 
on drugs, have swung the pendulum violently. Instead of harsh 
enforcement and prison sentences, they have made marijuana legal. 
Guatemala has gone further, and is in the process of legalising all 
recreational drugs - heroin, marijuana, ya ba, all of them - for 
personal use. Colombia and Mexico are doing the same.

Some of the many opponents of the war on drugs agree with such moves. 
There is more than a slight chance the upcoming UN drug sessions 
might provide tacit approval. But legalisation as the UN members are 
discussing is no answer to Thailand's problems. Replacing big-time 
illicit traffickers with big-time legal drug sellers does not even 
address society's many problems caused by drug abuse.

If harsh enforcement has failed (and it has) legalisation will not 
cure the many problems of illicit drugs. It would not lessen 
corruption. There would be open development of stronger drugs, 
already seen in America. Such souped-up drug varieties are marketed 
openly to more people, bringing more abuse, criminal and family. 
Advocates see a whole new source of taxation for governments; we see 
governments addicted to drug money.

The UN discussions provide an opportunity to finally formulate a 
rational policy on illicit drugs that national leaders have been 
promising for more than a decade. The last time the country was 
involved in a national effort about drugs, it was Thaksin 
Shinawatra's horrific policy of killing street dealers, with many 
innocent victims as well.

What is needed now is a policy stressing education and treatment, 
combined with zero tolerance of "big fish" traffickers. Foreign 
policy is key, but in the region to destroy organised drug crime, 
while moving abusers away from drugs and back into decent society.
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