Pubdate: Tue, 21 Jun 2016
Source: Bangkok Post (Thailand)
Copyright: The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2016


The Proposal Would Not Decriminalise or Legalise Meth.

Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya caused a major uproar with a 
statement out of the blue about the country's leading drug problem. 
The statement in question featured a proposal he presented at the 
United Nations General Assembly Special Session on drugs, known as 
UNGASS, in New York to demote methamphetamines from Category 1, the 
official designation of the most harmful and banned drugs, to the far 
more tolerant category.

Like other controversial proposals in this country, this one on 
amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) has drawn mixed reactions. Some 
believe it will make the drug situation far worse, but others think 
the opposite.

Contrary to initial reactions, the proposal would not decriminalise 
or legalise meth and associated drugs. Rather, it would take drug 
abusers and some petty corner peddlers out of the revolving 
street-to-prison-to-street system that does more to encourage drug 
trafficking than to prevent it.

Measures that will credibly achieve this must be encouraged. As 
Apinun Aramrattana of the Chiang Mai University Faculty of Medicine 
and colleagues argued in these pages yesterday, drug prohibition has 
failed. In Thailand, drug use has grown exponentially in the past 
decade and a half. The Thaksin "war on drugs" which murdered 2,500 
petty dealers and innocent bystanders was a human rights violation 
and a complete defeat of its purpose, to stamp out drug trafficking. 
The UNGASS has been one of the major catalysts to spur global 
rethinking in battling drug abuse. For many years, successive 
governments and the prime minister's Office of Narcotics Control 
Board have promised reform, then reneged. Law enforcement and prison 
have remained the key and usually the only means employed. Depending 
on the expert consulted, this has either directly caused or helped 
promote drug production and consumption. Last year, Thai authorities 
seized one billion ya ba tablets, while the number of users increased 
yet again.

The initial shock at Gen Paiboon's announcement had more to do with 
the method than content. There was no previous hint that change was 
due. The first reaction of Prateep Ungsongtham of the award-winning 
Prateep Foundation in the drug-ridden Klong Toey slums probably 
echoed public opinion. She opposed the measure, seeing it as possibly 
unleashing even more drugs on Thailand and her area.

In addition to the ya ba announcement, the minister had a second 
surprise. He said the government has been working on an overhaul of 
overall drug policy. He indicated it was almost ready to be revealed. 
To that, one must say, "Congratulations". It has been too long 
coming. But again, there was no reason this should have been a 
surprise. The government should have long ago invited the public to 
participate in this important, much-needed policy change. It must do 
so now, urgently.

There will be massive and important resistance to change. The current 
drug policy suits certain highly influential people. Drug trafficking 
has sowed corruption in low and high places alike. The obscene 
profits are even more addictive than the ya ba itself.

It may be that it will take this military regime to push aside strong 
opposition and bring in a proper, scientific drug policy. People will 
support any effort to bring relief to the drug problem. But they must 
also be part of the solution. The faster Gen Paiboon and Prime 
Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha involve the millions of concerned 
citizens, the quicker the failed policies can be turned around.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom