Yes to drug policy mend

Yes to drug policy mend

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.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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