HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Users Don't Deserve A Life Behind Bars
Pubdate: Wed, 11 Apr 2001
Source: Bangkok Post (Thailand)
Copyright: The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2001


One of the foremost tasks of the high-powered committee set up by Prime 
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during last month's national drug conference in 
Chiang Rai was to change the emphasis in the narcotics law so that drug 
addicts and those who support their habits by selling small amounts of 
drugs are treated as having a medical condition rather than as criminals 
and must undergo compulsory rehabilitation at an army camp.

The objective of this noble endeavour is to separate the addicts and minor 
pushers from the real traffickers, to give them a chance to turn a new leaf 
rather than spend time behind bars and possibly become hardened criminals. 
The treatment of addicts as patients also will go a long way towards 
helping relieve the overcrowding of our prisons. The latest figures from 
the Corrections Department show that 65% of inmates are drug offenders, 
most of them methamphetamine users.

The committee, headed by Interior Minister Purachai Piemsomboon, should 
have no problem with the idea of treating addicts, in particular 
methamphetamine users, as patients. The hurdle will be in redefining the 
term "trafficking" - and already the committee members are divided.

The present law defines anyone in possession of 50 grammes of 
methamphetamines, or 25 speed tablets, as a trafficker. Some panellists 
would like this changed to 50 tablets so more small-time drug peddlers 
receive rehabilitation rather than incarceration. Others are happy with the 
ways things are. They feel any relaxation of the limit will encourage the 
big traffickers to set up broader networks of minor dealers. Things are 
still up in the air as we go to press, and so the widely celebrated reforms 
have yet to materialise.

Perhaps the Purachai panel should take a look at a recent research paper 
prepared by Natthi Jitsawang, deputy director-general of the Corrections 
Department, and Sumonthip Jailek, a criminologist. The study conducted 
among 120 minor pushers serving time in nine different prisons should 
provide valuable "fruit for thought" to nourish the committee members in 
their search for an acceptable solution.

The highlights of the findings include: 60% of drug offenders are now 
guests of the state for possessing between one and 100 speed pills (30.8% 
possessed between 11 and 50 speed tablets, and 25% between 51 and 100 
tablets, meaning the biggest share had only a very few); 34.2% of the minor 
drug peddlers were no older than 25 years; 73% of the minor pushers claimed 
they were persuaded by their peers to take drugs and later sell them to 
support their habit.

The study found that most drug traders who also use, big and small, prefer 
to target students because they are easy prey and most can afford to 
support a habit. Youths are vulnerable to the temptation of becoming 
dealers and sell the drugs to their fellow students.

While the fight to stem the flow of drugs crossing the border from Burma 
might look overwhelming due to the lack of co-operation from Rangoon, the 
battle at home to reduce the demand through both compulsory and voluntary 
rehabilitation programmes is realisable.

With 2.7 million Thais having experimented with drugs at least once and 
300,000 now considered addicts, Thailand clearly is in the grip of a drug 
epidemic. This poses a daunting challenge to all of us, but especially Mr 
Purachai and the other members of his committee. Amending laws is already a 
drawn out process, and so the committee cannot afford to spend too much 
time haggling over such things as how many pills in the pocket make a man 
or woman a drug trafficker. Drug addicts have been treated as criminals for 
far too long and forced to languish in jail when they could have been 
provided with a more sensible alternative which helped them live life as a 
contributing member of society.
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