Pubdate: Wed, 22 Jun 2016
Source: Nation, The (Thailand)
Copyright: 2016 Nation Multimedia Group


Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya's Readiness to Declassify Yaba 
Signals a Sounder Strategy

If national governments have learned nothing from the futility of 
waging a "war on drugs", in some countries at least, common sense 
seems to be finally seeping in.

With several American states having decriminalised possession of 
marijuana and many more pondering the move, and with positive results 
emerging from European nations that have adopted softer stances on 
"street drugs", Thailand is now seeing light at the end of its long, 
dark yaba tunnel.

Thirteen years after then- Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra jumped 
on the war-on-drugs bandwagon with a brutal campaign to stem the 
trade in methamphetamines, known as yaba, the problem is worse than 
ever. We have plenty of addicts, users committing violent crimes and 
jails full of those caught with the stuff.

Thaksin thought he could rid Thailand of amphetamines altogether, but 
all he did was unleash an army of police gunmen mandated to take 
justice into their own hands. Officially, 2,800 people were killed, 
ostensibly in drug raids and arrests, and the government admitted 
that some were executed on the spot, summarily. Human Rights Watch 
later claimed that more than half of them had no connection 
whatsoever to drugs. Not a single large-scale drug dealer was prosecuted.

Politics aside (US presidents have made horrifying use of the war on 
drugs to bully other countries), neither Thaksin's nor any government 
since has come close to winning this costly, neverending battle. 
Clearly we need a fresh strategy.

Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya told a United Nations General 
Assembly special session on drugs this week that Thailand plans to 
move yaba out of Category 1 on the list of harmful, banned drugs. If 
it does so, simple possession of the drug would no longer bring an 
automatic jail term.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has since indicated that his 
government is merely "studying the concept", but initial public 
reaction to Paiboon's announcement has been negative, since yaba  the 
"crazy pill" formerly known by the less panicky name yama (horse 
medicine)  has always been portrayed as a dangerous scourge on 
society. The quickest way for any police chief, general or government 
to win popularity was to be seen "doing something" about the yaba 
problem, even if they weren't. The notion of rehabilitating yaba 
users is still widely seen as laughable.

It's understandable that people expect reclassifying the drug would 
make its use more widespread, because that's what we've always been 
told. In fact yaba is easily purchasable and its use is already vast, 
among all age groups, in every social class. The UN agency, which 
recommended the declassification, has ample evidence that chasing 
dealers and locking up users accomplishes nothing, and that, on the 
contrary, success is achieved by focusing on "harm reduction" and 
rehabilitation. Spain and Norway have startling results to share with 
the world here.

There appears to be no consensus among health and social-welfare 
authorities on reclassifying yaba, but there is on the efficacy of 
rehabilitation and the negative impacts of imprisonment. Two-thirds 
of Thailand's 317,000 prison inmates are serving time for 
narcotics-related offences, and most by far are just users and 
small-scale traffickers. They're not being rehabilitated. They will 
leave their cells with the same tendency to addiction and petty 
crime, but perhaps also with more dangerous intent.

Thailand needs to reconsider its policy on illicit and casual drugs 
and make changes based on established patterns of behaviour and 
proven successes, rather than reactionary paranoia or political 
expedience. In terms of drug abuse and the threat drugs pose to young 
people, the problem always has been and still is the corruption 
within government that allows influential figures to profit from the 
dope trade with impunity. That's the real habit that needs breaking.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom