Pubdate: Wed, 22 Jun 2016
Source: Bangkok Post (Thailand)
Copyright: The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2016
Author: Atiya Achakulwisut
Note: Thai Pulse, what's hot in Thai newspapers and social media


Has Thailand's tough policy on narcotic drugs created a monster out 
of methamphetamines resulting in the poor being punished with the 
heaviest sentences, and prison overcrowding?

An article published on the online outlet Thai Publica in July last 
year by Mutita Chuachang about the need to rethink the country's 
policy on ya ba has resurfaced recently. The content is relevant to 
the Justice Ministry's controversial proposal to remove crystal meth 
from the illicit dangerous drug list and shift the drug policy away 
from heavy suppression.

While the problem of drug abuse has haunted governments for many 
decades, there has been no success in tackling it, the article said.

One result that cannot be overlooked is the number of convicts 
serving sentences for drug offences has risen considerably under the 
traditional policy of heavy suppression.

Thai prisons are sixth worst in the world for over-crowding, the 
article said. The corrections system can accommodate around 160,000 
prisoners but has to house more than 300,000 now. Of that amount, 
60-70% are drug-related cases.

"Inmates are packed in like canned fish. It robs people of human 
dignity. It's worse than the conditions that pet cats or dogs 
typically endure," former Constitutional Court judge Jaran 
Pakditanakul said during a talk on drugs in the mass media.

According to Mr Jaran, the "war on drugs" could only halt the spread 
of narcotics temporarily. Once the campaigns are over, the situation 
returns to normal, or gets worse.

It's estimated there were about 1.8 million drug addicts in 2014. As 
for cases that entered the court, the number increased from 327,000 
cases in 2013 to 350,000 in the first half of 2015, Mr Jaran said.

He said judges had no choice but to rule on drug-related cases 
according to the law even though the law designates too heavy a punishment.

He said there are about 45,000 female convicts from drug-related 
cases whose average punishment is two years in jail.

This means most of them are smalltime dealers, traffickers or users, 
he said. This also means the rehabilitation track to which small-time 
users could be diverted is hardly implemented.

"To have 45,000 female convicts means a failure of 45,000 families 
and a host of resulting social problems," Mr Jaran said.

Supreme Court assistant judge Nawarat Klinrat said thanks to the 
influence of the Unites States, Thailand designates a heavy 
punishment of life behind bars for imports of ya ba under the 
Narcotics Act. A "manufacturing" or "import for distribution" of 
methamphetamines, meanwhile, carries a maximum sentence of death.

Before the act, however, amphetamines - known at that time as ya ma 
or ya khayun (hard-working pill) - were produced by a pharmacy named 
Welcome and available over the counter. Even students were known to 
have consumed them so they could stay up late to prepare for exams, 
the article said.

Former minister Sanoh Thienthong changed the name ya ma to ya ba in 
1996 and methamphetamine was listed as a Category 1 dangerous and 
illicit drug [on par with heroin and LSD]. Legal punishment in 
association for its trafficking became heavier as well, from five 
years' imprisonment to death.

There is still a problem of proportionate punishment [under the act]. 
For example, people who sell 20,000 ya ba pills at one time would 
receive a lighter punishment than those who sell 20 pills on three 
separate occasions as the court bases its rulings on instances, the 
article said.

"The law that carries heavy punishment has resulted in the drug being 
harder to obtain while its value has been driven higher," Mr Nawarat said.

He suggested the law be amended to allow the court to avoid giving 
heavy punishments in small cases and foster a harm reduction environment.

Appeals Court judge Kamjud Puangsawat was more forthright in his 
opinion that the state is on the wrong track altogether in its 
attempts to tackle drug problems.

Not only has the traditional control-andsuppression approach failed 
to arrest the drug problem but it has created many new ones 
especially in prisons.

"The entire narcotics law is wrong. The definition of narcotics, 
their distribution and imports is all wrong. We have been made to 
fear the drug more than we should," Mr Kamjud said in the report.

He cited as an example an inconsistency in punishment between 
drug-related offences and other crimes. Manslaughter can carry a 
punishment of 15 to 20 years imprisonment, a life term or death while 
someone who brought one and a half pills of ya ba into the country 
must be punished only by a lifetime in prison, which can be halved to 
25 years if he or she confesses to the crime, the judge said.

A-ngun, one of more than 600 female convicts in the Udon Thani 
correction facility, said she had never thought the 20 meth pills 
which she brought into Nong Khao from Laos for her own consumption 
would land her in jail for 25 years. The single mother of three has 
served two years of her sentence.

"I never thought the punishment would be so severe. I was a user, not 
a seller. It was unimaginable," A-ngun said in tears.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom