Justice minister: Drug policy 'must change'

Justice minister: Drug policy 'must change'

Thailand is on the wrong track in its efforts to address drug problems and it is time to treat drug abuse as a health issue rather than a crime, says Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya.

Speaking at the "Thailand's Drug Policy Revisited" forum held by the Thailand Institute of Justice, Gen Paiboon said the high number of drug offenders and widespread drug abuse in communities shows the drug policy is failing.

"It has been wrong all these years. If not, why do 70% of drug offenders remain in prison? Why does the problem persist despite thousands of deaths? And why do people still complain about drugs in their community? They're telling us there's something wrong," he said.

Gen Paiboon, who has spoken on a similar theme previously, said the country has to shift the emphasis from suppression to treating drug abuse as a health problem and engaging the public health system in the issue. He said the drug law should be amended to prepare the country for the change.

Gen Paiboon said authorities should strengthen the more than 81,000 communities across the country and increase their ability to tackle drugs. He also wants the Public Health Ministry to conduct a feasibility study on how to reduce the price of each speed pill to 50 satang.

The Justice Ministry is gearing up for a meeting with provincial governors and district office chiefs on the drugs issue next month, he said.

Backing his remarks, Public Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn said authorities have been fighting an unwinnable war and have to change strategy. He said the role of the public health system is to reduce the number of drug users and treat them as patients instead of criminals.

Dr Piyasakol said community-based health clinics will have to be engaged in the policy change. A bill is being drawn up to reform the system. Under the change, methamphetamines will be removed from the dangerous narcotics drugs list which includes hard drugs such as heroin.

Economist Sangsidh Piriyarangsan said certain substances such as methamphetamine and plants such as marijuana should be legalised for medical use.

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